Where Fools Fear to Tread -- An Albany Snapshot

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 3, 2014 02:29pm | Post a Comment

I recently took a sort of Grand Tour of the Northeastern United States and Quebec with Una. Before the trip I'd only been in the region once before when I spent a few days in and around Princeton and New York City during Yuletide a few years ago. I returned for the occasion of my sister's graduation but used the opportunity to explore the surrounding region by train. One of the city's that we visited was Albany.

Most of the places we visited we spent a substantial amount of time exploring. Visiting Albany, on the other hand, was a last minute decision. Wanting to visit Vermont we purchased tickets for the Ethan Allen Express to Rutland, Vermont. When the Amtrak board at Penn Station failed to list any Vermont trains, I approached an Amtrak employee and said, "May I ask you a question?" She said nothing but her face grew red and she visibly clenched her jaw so I inquired about the train to Vermont. In an unpleasant tone accompanied by an eye roll she stated, without looking at me, "I don't know why they'd sell you a ticket to Vermont when no train goes there." We returned to the ticket counter where a more helpful employee issued us a partial refund and informed us that we could take the Adironack Line to Albany so to Albany we went.

Map of the Adirondack Line -- image source:
Jersey Pinoy

The US has the largest rail system in the world -- more than twice the size of China's -- but in many parts of the country it travels at a frustratingly slow speed and its ridership pales as a result. 111 years after the invention of high speed rail, New Jersey Transit's Northeast Corridor Line is one of the country's only true high-speed rail lines. A Montreal—New York City high-speed maglev was proposed at least twenty years ago. In 2005, New York Governor George Pataki and Quebec Premier Jean Charest echoed calls for high speed rail but almost a decade later that train has yet to leave the station.

Hudson Athens Lighthouse

Amtrak's Adirondack takes eleven hours to travel chug along 613 kilometers of track which is why we decided to stop somewhere overnight rather than ride all the way to Canada. Luckily, the Hudson Valley is truly beautiful and the three hour trip to Albany includes scenic natural vistas, quaint villages, and charming Hudson River lighthouses among other sites (although the entire three hour experience was made somewhat less pleasant by a group of gossiping co-workers whose mean-spirited, beer-fueled hen party lasted the entire ride). 

We arrived in Albany shortly before the sun concluded its journey across the sky with few preconceptions. Albany is mentioned a lot on Orange is the New Black but other than that, my main impression was formed by Agent USA, a computer game from 1984 designed to teach users about train travel and geography. In the game, an antagonist known as the Fuzzbomb is infecting the residents of various American cities. Although the 8-bit graphics are simple, one of the lessons the game taught me was that capital cities are often quite small and, aside from their governmental importance, not the most always cosmopolitan of places. Although our time in Albany was short I feel comfortable with my conclusion that New York City rather than the state capital is the more vibrant urban center. 

The Dunn Memorial Bridge pedestrian and bikeway -- image source: Di Highway

I proposed to Una that we walk across the Dunn Memorial Bridge to Albany but the walkway looked more like a freeway shoulder than something most humans would feel comfortable walking along. We instead called a hotel and they sent a shuttle which arrived after what seemed like an inordinately long wait. We climbed into the van (the interior of which smelled of noodle soup). As we rode along I-787 we saw some of Albany's beautiful buildings which I wanted to pay a visit to: Albany City Hall, the Alfred E. Smith Building, the Cathedral of All Saints, the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, the Egg, the New York State Capitol, the New York State Executive Mansion, the Palace Theatre, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, and the SUNY System Administration Building (fka the Delaware & Hudson Railroad Building) among them. However, despite the presence of an attractive attractive downtown I saw few signs of life after dark.

Downtown Albany -- image source: Capitalize Albany

When I asked our driver if Albany is one of those towns that closes at 5:00 (likesay Oklahoma City -- although it should be noted that I haven't been there since 1999 and maybe it's a happening scene nowadays) he assured us that downtown Albany is actually quite hopping at night and named a couple of sports bars as supportive proof. Once situated in the hotel I was able to confirm that there were at least two sports bars open but little else, it seemed. It was only just after 10 pm and but it seemed that few restaurants remained open so we ordered food from Mild Wally's


From the comforts of our hotel room I attempted to research the cuisine of Albany. In 19th century Albany, Sturgeon was so popular that it was often referred to as "Albany Beef" but the fish itself has a much larger range. Also, despite Principal Skinner's claim that Albany is known for "steamed hams," I found no evidence to support that and it seems that there is little truly regional cuisine. In its place I mostly found praise of signature dishes from various restaurants and locally made products (e.g. the Doritos Nachos at The Fountain, the Italian bread baked at Perreca's, the burritos at Bombers, and the "doughboys" (rather like Hot Pockets, it seems) from Esperanto). From elsewhere in the greater Capital District, the city of Troy produces Freihofer's Chocolate Chip Cookies, Utica has chicken riggies (rigatoni) and halfmoons (another type of cookie), and it is often (albeit erroneously) claimed that pie à la mode was invented in Cambridge


Mozzarella and melba sauce -- image source: Albany Eats
There are at least three dishes which can claim to be truly Albanian -- although all of them seem like the desperate concoctions of an improbably stoned college student with a half-empty fridge and a miniscule budget. The most famous local culinary creation are mozzarella sticks served with raspberry melba sauce. Runner-ups include the mini dog (seemingly just a small hot dog), apple cider donuts, and the "fish fry" -- a long cut of fish served on a hotdog bun and often covered with either tartar sauce or chili

It is my belief that the best way of seeing a city is by walking its streets and exploring its neighborhoods. Around our hotel in the 12th Ward, however, there seemed to be little but freeways and closed businesses surrounded by vast, empty parking lots. A walk to Albany's downtown would've mean walking ten kilometers round trip and there seemed to be little going on other than sports bars, which I find to be uniquely unpleasant places to drink. I therefore attempted to console myself with online research.

Albany is only the sixth largest city in New York. It was incorporated in 1686 and has a population of about 100,000 Albanians who are roughly 79% white, 13% black, 5% Asian, 2% mixed race, and 5% Latino of any race. Albany Neighborhoods Arbor Hill, Buckingham Pond, Beverwyck, Campus, Center Square, Eagle Hill, Helderberg, Delaware Neighborhood, Dudley Heights, Dunes, Hudson/Park, Melrose, New Albany, Normansville, North Albany, Park South, Pine Hills, Sheridan Hollow, South End, Kenwood, Krank Park, Mansion District, Pastures, Second Avenue, University Heights, Washington Park, West Hill, and Whitehall


I could find no famous musicians from Albany, although I'm sure that there are some. Although a fictional character, Rennsslaer claims to be the birthplace of Yankee Doodle. Supposedly, whilst quartered at a home there, British Army surgeon Richard Shuckburgh wrote "Yankee Doodle" in 1755, famously mocking the colonists whose notions of foppishness were apparently so unrefined that a mere feather in a hat was enough to warrant referring to the wearer as a Macaroni. Like Hamas's “Attack! Carry Out Terror Strikes" century's later, "Yankee Doodle" was co-opted by those it attempted to satirize as a patriotic song. 
When unable to explore a city on foot or by transit, my second choice is to turn to films. Perhaps the most acclaimed film set in Albany and based upon a book written by Albany native William Kennedy is Ironweed (1983). My favorite Albany-filmed movie, however (even though it plays New York City), would be The Other Guys (2010). Albany was also a film location for The Way We Were (1973), Ghost Story (1981), The Time Machine (2002), and Salt (2010).


William Devane in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) -- image source: The Hitchcock Zone

Albany is also the birthplace of William Devane -- an actor famous for playing President John F. Kennedy several times and the villainous Greg Sumner on Knots Landing

In the morning, we returned to the train station and journeyed to Quebec. I really do hope to return to Albany to spend more time there someday so if you can make that happen, contact me and let me know. In the meantime...

Where Fools Fear to Tread

Where Fools Fear to Tread -- A Philadelphia Snapshot

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 2, 2014 09:11pm | Post a Comment


The author in Philadelphia (image courtesy Una Zipagan)

I recently visited Philadelphia for the first time as a stop on a sort of Grand Tour of the Northeast and Quebec, which I undertook following my sister's graduation from Princeton. To date, the only states that I haven't visited in the lower 48 are located along the East Coast... except for North Dakota. Even those East Coast states that I had previously visited are not states in which I've spent much time. I'd been to New Jersey just once, New York just once, and Miami a few times. I've also been informed by several Northeasterners that Miami does "not count." I respond with a quote from Posdnuous, “Characters have the tendency to con themselves/ To think the East Coast is only New York and Philadelph.”

Map of Pennsylvania (image source: Trail Maps)

I would also elaborate that fact that whereas Miami is in geographically located on the coast of the Atlantic, the only coastlines in Pennsylvania are those along the Delaware Estuary and Lake Eerie -- which is part of the Midwest CoastI'll stop short of suggesting that Pennsylvania is more truly Midwestern than East Coast even though there are some apparently pronounced cultural similarities between Pennsylvania and the states of the Midwest and Upper South. (*cough* Pennsatucky *cough*). 

Map of the Rust Belt (image source: United States History LSA)

Most of my childhood was spent at the other end of the coal and rust belts, in Kentucky and Missouri (aka “The Pennsylvania of the West”) but I had few strong associations with Philadelphia beyond those formed by Colonial history lessons in school and the cartoon, Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids, at home. I also vividly remember the MOVE bombing (the subject of a recent documentary, Let the Fire Burn), which, along with the intro to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, painted a darker image of at least West Philadelphia but did little to influence my presumptions in very concrete, immutable ways. 

Inside 30th Street Station

When I arrived in Philadelphia with Una, friends offered a variety of recommendations. "Look for graffiti by Cornbread" (I didn't see any) and "Get a SEPTA day pass" were joined by suggestions of places to explore (Fairmount Park, Olde City, and the abandoned Reading Viaduct), movies and television programs to watch (American Bandstand, Birdy, Gia, Rocky, and Trading Places), places and items to eat and drink (BarcadeFrankford HallMonk's CaféRita's Gelati, Yards Brewery, and soft pretzels), museums to visit (Betsy Ross House Museum, Mütter Museum, Philadelphia Art Museum, and Rodin Museum ), and more (the Liberty Bell and Reading Terminal Market). All are undoubtedly great suggestions and but for me most will have to wait until I'm able to return, which I hope to do sooner rather than later because during my short time in Philadelphia, I enjoyed it immensely and really got the sense that there was something special there.


One of Philadelphia's slogans is “The Birthplace of America,” which while it highlights its historical importance, it could also have the unintended consequence of suggesting that its best days are located in a mythic, long gone, 17th Century Golden Age. Historical information reminds visitors that among its many firsts: the first American flag, first brick house (in the US), first printed almanac (in the US), first hospital (in the US), and charming Elfreth's Alley is the oldest continually-inhabited street in the country, it's home of the first brick building in the US. That's all well and good but what of the 21st Century Philadelphia?

Most of Philadelphia today has the sort of decidedly urban aura that I sort of assumed all cities possessed when I was growing up: crumbling brick factories with broken windows, vertical building-scaling fire escapes, steam coming from stuff underground, &c. Despite its name (or perhaps because of it), I was surprised to find out that it's the birthplace of the seemingly inauthentically urban clothing chain, Urban Outfitters, founded in 1970 as the Free People Store. There were parts of it that seemed so forsaken that my girlfriend noted it seemed a bit 28 Days Later. Later research into Philadelphia's zombie film connections proved that it was a filming location for World War Z. But make no mistake, Philadelphia is a vibrant city and one that seems to be showing signs of recovery rather than further decline. 

Long abandoned Ninth National Bank (image source: Hidden City Philadelphia)

In some ways Philadelphia is an the archetypical Rust Belt city. As with most of the aging industrial cities that were part of the so-called “Foundry of the Nation,” the population and importance of Philadelphia declined for many decades as people moved away from city centers and manufacturing jobs were moved overseas. Back in 1790, Philadelphia was the second largest city in the US (after New York). In the early 1800s it was eclipsed in population numbers first by Baltimore, then New Orleans, and finally Boston.

As a result of the 1854 Act of Consolidation, Philadelphia's borders expanded and only in doing so restored it to the number two spot. The 1930s saw the first population decline, not just in Philadelphia, but also in St. Louis, Cleveland, and Boston. In the latter half of the 20th century, roughly 55,000 Philadelphians moved out of the city – a decline which finally began to reverse by the 2010 census, which gave evidence to the city's first growth in sixty years.

In other ways, Philadelphia is rather unlike other Rust Belt cities, most of which were eclipsed by newer metropolises in the Sun Belt -- even with decades of decline (and recent growth), Philadelphia remains one of the US's largest cities – the nation's fifth largest, in fact (coming in behind the Sun Belt's Houston), and the tenth largest on the continent (coming in behind Ecatepec de Morelos).

Bladen's Courtyard

Despite my love of visiting neighborhoods, I was only in Philadelphia for about 24 hours (staying around Callowhill) and thus only able to see a few corners of it around Center City including the Avenue of the Arts, Chinatown, Elfreth's Alley, Franklintown, Hahnemann, Independence Mall, Jeweler's Row, Logan Square, Market East, Olde City, Rittenhouse Square, Society Hill, and University City.

Society Hill

Philadelphia is a diverse city, the population of which is 44% black, 37% white Anglo, 13% Latino of any race, 7% Asian, and 3% of mixed race. Ethnic enclaves include (in addition to Chinatown) the French Quarter, Germantown, Italian Market, Koreatown, and Little Saigon. Port Richmond has a large Polish population, Fairhill and Hunting Park are largely Puerto Rican, Devil's Pocket and Pennsport/Two Street are very Irish, and Washington Square West is known, affectionately, as a “gayborhood.”

Other neighborhoods in “The City of Neighborhoods” include Academy Gardens, Allegheny West, Andorra, Angora, Ashton-Woodenbridge, the Avenue of Technology, Bartram Village, Bella Vista, Belmont Village, Brewerytown, Bridesburg, Burholme, Bustleton, Byberry, Carroll Park, Castor Garden, Cathedral Park, Cedar Park, Cedarbrook, Centennial District, Chestnut Hill, Clearview, Cobbs Creek, Crescentville, Crestmont Farms, Dickinson Narrows, Dunlap, East Falls, East Oak Lane, East Passyunk Crossing, Eastwick, Elmwood Park, Fairmount, Feltonville, Fern Rock, Fishtown, Fitler Square, Fox Chase, Frankford, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, Garden Court, Girard Estate, Glenwood, Graduate Hospital, Grays Ferry, Greenwich, Haddington, Harrowgate, Hartranft, Haverford North, Hawthorne, Hedgerow, Hog Island, Holme Circle, Holmesburg, Juniata, Kensington, Kingsessing, Krewstown, Lawncrest, Lawndale, Lexington Park, Logan, Lower Moyamensing, Ludlow, Manayunk, Mantua, Marconi Plaza, Mayfair, Melrose Park, Mill Creek, Millbrook, Modena Park, Morrell Park, Morton, Mount Airy, Mount Moriah, Moyamensing, Museum District, Naval Square, Newbold, Nicetown-Tioga, Normandy, Northern Liberties, Northwood, Ogontz, Olney, Overbrook, Overbrook Farms, Overbrook Park, Oxford Circle, Packer Park, Parkside, Parkwood, Paschall, Passyunk Square, Penn Center, Penn's Landing, Pennypack, Penrose, Philadelphia International Airport, Point Breeze, Poplar, Powelton Village, Queen Village, Rhawnhurst, Roxborough, Ryers, Saunders Park, Schuylkill, Sharswood, Somerton, South Street, Southwark, Southwest Schuylkill, Sports Complex, Spring Garden, Spruce Hill, Squirrel Hill, Stanton, Strawberry Mansion, Tacony, Tasker, Templetown, Torresdale, Upper Holmesburg, Walnut Hill, West Oak Lane, West Passyunk, Wharton, Whitman, Wilson Park, Winchester Park, Wissahickon, Wissinoming, Wister, Woodland Terrace, Wynnefield, Wynnefield Heights and Yorktown.


Food is high on the list of almost any visitor's priorities and I like to explore local cuisine as much as I can whilst remaining vegetarian. Probably the most iconic Philadelphian culinary creation is the Philly Cheesesteak; a steak, onion, and cheese sandwich which I do remember enjoying when I still ate meat – although I suspect that the sandwich's fans might bristle at the fact that it was from the hoagie chain Blimpie, where I worked as a teenager in Tampa.

Pat's Cheesesteak (image source: Dori Zinn)

Other mostly unhealthy icons of Philadelphia's food scene include the soft pretzel (which, despite roots in the Francia during the Early Middle Ages, is dear to Philadelphians), the hoagie (aka submarine sandwich), German butter cake, scrapple, Peanut Chews, stromboli, Tastycake products (Krimpets, Kandy Kakes, Tasty Pies &c), spiced wafers, cheese sauce, the Texas tommy (a cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped hot dog), tomato pie, water ice, and soda (Philadelphia is home to Hires Root Beer, Frank's Beverages' Black Cherry Wishniak and Vanilla Cream, and Levi's Champ Cherry) -- none of which I enjoyed during my short visit.

After lugging our stuff across the bridge from 30th Street Station to City Center, I was craving light and healthy, which we found at Pure Fare. For supper -- and although it specializes in the Hu cuisine of Shanghai rather than that of Philadelphia -- the "Chinesey" aromas of Chinatown took hold of our appetites and Dim Sum Garden hit the spot. 

 Philadelphia skyline (image source: Visit Philly)

Having so little time to explore, I aimlessly wandered around the streets of Philadelphia as much as I could. At night I found them to be surprisingly empty, rarely crossing paths with any other souls. There were a couple of sports bars with people gathered in their patios and near their entrances. On a darkened sidewalk I saw a woman walking alone pant-hooted at by a troop of crotch rocket-straddling broboons. Most of Center City felt surprisingly deserted, though, compared at least to Downtown Los Angeles or Brooklyn

Philadelphia has a long, rich, frothy tradition of boozing – in 1752 the city enjoyed access to 120 legally-licensed taverns. Out of respect for history, I popped into Park Side Beef & Ale, where I grabbed some Yard's Philadelphia Pale Ale for take-out. Philadelphia also has a reputation as the city of brotherly love but I was still warmed by the fact that two separate strangers told me to make sure that my beer was cold as the cooler had just been re-stocked. 


Another way to get a sense of a city, albeit usually filtered through a distorted lens, is by watching movies. Probably the most Philadelphia film of all time is Rocky, which is also the first film I recall seeing in the theater – a Kentucky drive-in. Rocky was, of course, followed by five sequels. One of my former roommates, Nibbles, could recite every line of the first four (even the Russian parts of the fourth).

Other Philadelphia-set (in some cases partially) films that I've seen include Best in Show, The Last Detail, Mannequin (1987), Mannequin Two: On the Move, Marnie, The Master, Philadelphia, Trading Places, 12 Monkeys, and Witness – none of which I realized were set in Philadelphia except, of course, Philadelphia

I tried to find The Young Philadelphians or The Philadelphia Story online to no avail. I did, however, find The Philadelphia Experiment, which I utterly failed to get into. I then found the blaxploitation film, Trick Baby, which was more immediately appealing but after having by then walked quite a bit and consumed the better part of my six-pack, I quickly nodded off.

Other Philadelphia-set films include A History of Violence, A Kiss Before Dying, Alpha Girls, America: A Call to Greatness, The Amati Girls, The Answer Man, Baby Mama, Big Fan, Birdy, Blow Out, Clark: A Gonzomentary, Clean and Sober, Dare, David and Lisa, Devi, Downtown, Fallen, Fat Albert, Fighting Back, Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story, 42, From the Terrace, Gia, The Greening of Whitney Brown, The Happening, The Happiest Millionaire, Her Only Child, The Husband She Met Online, In Her Shoes, Inventing the Abbotts, Invincible, Just Wright, Kitty Foyle, Lady in the Water, Law Abiding Citizen, The In Crowd, Love Hurts, Maximum Risk, Money for Nothing, My Architect, National Treasure, Neighbor, Next Day Air, The Old Maid, Pride, Renegades, 1776, Shadowboxer, Shooter, Silver Linings Playbook, The Sixth Sense, State Property, State Property 2, Stealing Home, 10th & Wolf, That Midnight Kiss, Train Ride, The 24th Day, Two Bits, Up Close & Personal, The Watermelon Woman, and Worth Winning.


I already mentioned that I used to watch Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids – I also have several Bill Cosby stand-up records on which Cosby shares stories of his old gang – but I haven't knowingly watched any other Philadelphia-set television shows other than It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which though popular amongst some of my friends struck me as so gratingly shrill and dudebro that I would say that I was subjected to it rather than that I watched it.  I also, in researching the city, watched part of an episode of Family Ties in which Alex P. Keaton has a crazy dream.

Other Philadelphia-set television shows which I've yet to form an opinion of include Amen, American Dreams, Angie, The Big House, Body of Proof, Boy Meets World, Brotherly Love, Brothers, Bustin' Loose, The Class, Cold Case, Dads, Do No Harm, Family Album, Hack, How to Get Away with Murder, Instant Mom, Little Bill, Maybe This Time, Minor Adjustments, Parking Wars, Philly, Pursuit of Happiness, The Real World: Philadelphia, Ryan Caulfield: Year One, Shannon's Deal, Strong Medicine, Teach: Tony Danza, Thirtysomething, 'Til Death, The Tony Randall Show, and Wreck Chasers.


Finally, both because Amoeba is primarily a music store and because there is so much of it, there's the music of Philadelphia to consider. It's my view, too, that the music that emanates from a place generally reveals a lot more about its soul than almost any Hollywood film could ever hope to.

Philadelphia's music goes back several centuries. Founding father and Philadelphia resident Benjamin Franklin was also an accomplished viola da gamba player, composer, and inventor of the glass armonica, an instrument which went on to be composed for by George Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus MozartLudwig van BeethovenRichard Strauss, and Damon Albarn

One of the oldest songs pertaining lyrically to Philadelphia is Francis Johnson's 1818 song, "Philadelphia Fireman's Cotillion.” Johnson was a composer and virtuoso of both the keyed bugle and violin. He was also the first black American composer to have his music published as sheet music. Though born in the West Indieshe later resided and died in Philadelphia. 

Another great, black composer of the era with ties to Philadelphia was James A. Bland, His song, “O, Dem Golden Slippers,” was popularized by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and later unofficially adopted as the theme song for the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. Johnson too was born elsewhere (in Flushing) but also moved to Philadelphia, where he died.

Philadelphia has played an important role in Doo-Wop, Rock 'n' Roll (Philadelphia was the birthplace of American Bandstand), Gangsta Rap (Philadelphia's Schoolly D is usually credited with the genre's creation), and a smooth strain of R&B known as Philly Souldeveloped and popularized by Archie Bell & the Drells, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, MazeThe StylisticsTeddy PendergrassThe Trammps, and others -- a couple of whom originally hailed from other cities but recorded songs by Philadelphian songwriters like Bobby Martin, Thom Bell, Linda Creed, Norman Harris, and Dexter Wansel for Philadelphia International Records and were instrumental in establishing the Philly sound.


Philadelphia also either produced or is closely-associated with the following:

A Life Once Lost, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, The A-Sides, A. J. Croce, Aaron Dugan, Aja Kim, Al Alberts, Al Martino, Albert Hay Malotte, Albert Rosewig, Alec Ounsworth, Alexander McCurdy, Alexander Reinagle, Alexandra Pierce, Alfred Genovese, Alphonso Johnson, Amanda Blank, The Ambassador, Amber Rose, American Opera Company, Amos Lee, Amy Malkoff, Angelic Gospel Singers, Ann Maria Thorne, Annie Gosfield, Archie Shepp, The Armchairs, Army of the Pharaohs,

Arthur Cosenza, Asher Roth, Aspera, The Assembled Multitude, Audrey Landers, Az Yet, Bahamadia, Barbara Mason, Bardo Pond, Barleyjuice, Beanie Sigel, Bell and James, Benny Golson, Bernard Wilson, Beru Revue, Beryl Booker, Bianca Ryan, Bilal, Bill Doggett, Bill Haley, Billie Holiday, Billy Bean, Billy Butler, Billy Kyle, Black Thought, Bleeding Rainbow, Blood Feathers, Bloodhound Gang, Blue Magic, The Blue Method, Bobby Durham, Bobby Eli, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Timmons, Bonehead,

Bootsie Barnes, Boyz II Men, Bree Sharp, Brenda & the Tabulations, Brett Kull, Britny Fox, Broadside Electric, Brothers Past, Bruce Montgomery, Bruce Saylor, Buddy Deppenschmidt, Buddy Greco, Bunny Sigler, Burn Witch Burn, Burning Brides, Calvin Jackson, Camille Zeckwer, Carfax Abbey, Carol Lynn Maillard, Cashmere, Cassidy, Catalyst, Celestine Tate Harrington, Center City Opera Theater, Chalmers Alford, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Charles Albert Tindley,

Charles Earland, Charles Fambrough, Charli Baltimore, Charlie Biddle, Charlie Gracie, Charlie Johnson, Chiddy Bang, CHOPS, Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, Christian Martucci, Christian McBride, Christina Perri, Chubby Checker, Chuck Treece, Cinderella, Cindy Birdsong, Circa Survive, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clara Ward, Claudine Clark, Clifford Thornton, Clockcleaner, Cold Cave, Coles Whalen, Colin Marston, Cool C, Cosmo Baker, Count To Four, Courtney Cox, Crypt the Warchild,

Cynthia Cozette Lee, Da Youngsta's, Da' T.R.U.T.H., Dandelion, Danny & the Juniors, Danny Rapp, David Amram, David Bispham, David Bromberg, David Jack, David Newman, David Raksin, David Ricketts, David Ruffin, David Tudor, David Uosikkinen, The Dead Milkmen, Dee Dee Sharp, The Defog, The Delfonics, Demoz, Demrick, Denny Dias, Derrick Hodge, Derrick Murdock, Des Devious, Devo Springsteen, Dexter Wansel, Dice Raw, Disco Biscuits, The Dixie Hummingbirds, DJ Cash Money,

DJ Drama, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Doap Nixon, Doc Cheatham, Don Cannon, Don Gardner, Donald Bailey, Donald Washington, Double Exposure, The Dovells, Dr. Dog, The Dreamlovers, Drew Parsons, DrivetimeUOJ, Dusolina Giannini, Earl Young, Echo Orbiter, Echolyn, Eddie Fisher, Eddie Lang, Eddie Layton, Edison Electric Band, Edwin Pearce Christy, Eliot Fisk, Elisa Fiorillo, Elizabeth Greenfield, Elliot Lawrence, Emmaline Henry, Empty Stares, Enon, Enrico Di Giuseppe, Eric Bazilian,

Eric Gravatt, Eric Owens, Ernie Andrews, Espers, Essra Mohawk, Ethel Waters, Eugene Ormandy, Eve, Ex Reverie, The Extraordinaires, Fabian Forte, Familiar 48, Fat City Reprise, Fat Larry's Band, Fayette Pinkney, Ferko String Band, The Fireflies, First Choice, Florence Quivar, Flowchart, The Four Aces, Fran Smith, Francis Hopkinson, Frankie Avalon, Frankie Beverly, Franklin Bridge, 

Franny Beecher, Fred Mascherino, Free Energy, Freeway, Fritz Scheel, G. Love & Special Sauce, Gail Ann Dorsey, Gamble and Huff, Gene McFadden, George Brunner, George Frederick Boyle, George Howard, George Stanford, George Tunnell, Gerald Veasley, Gil Saunders, Gilbere Forte, Gilbert Raynolds Combs, Gladys Bentley, Gloria Mann, The Goats, God Lives Underwater, Gogi Grant, Gordon Bok, Goreaphobia, Green Fields of America, Gregg Foreman, Grey Eye Glances,

Grover Washington, Jr., Hail Social, Hall & Oates, Hannah Sylvester, Harry Link, Hash Jar Tempo, Heath Brothers, Heaven's Edge, Heavy Metal Kings, Henry Grimes, Herman Foster, Hershy Kay, Hezekiah, The High & Mighty, The Hooters, Hoots & Hellmouth, Hop Along, Hot Cross, Howard Lanin, Howard Tate, Hub, Huffamoose, Hugh McDonald, Illegal, Ink & Dagger, Instant Funk, The Interpreters, The Intrigues, The Intruders, J. R. Mitchell, Jack Ashford, Jaco Pastorius, Jamaaladeen Tacuma,

Jamal, James Darren, James DePreist, James Lee Stanley, James Mtume, James Poyser, Jan Savitt, Jared Hasselhoff, Jay Bezel, Jay Krush, Jay Mehler, Jazmine Sullivan, Jazzyfatnastees, Jeanette MacDonald, Jeanne Behrend, Jedi Mind Tricks, Jeff Lorber, Jena Kraus, Jenn Bostic, Jerry Ragovoy, Jerry Ricks, Jill Scott, Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops, Jim Beanz, Jim Beard, Jim Boggia, Jim Croce, Jim McGorman, Jimmy Amadie, Jimmy Bruno, Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Pop, Jimmy Preston,

Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Woode, Jneiro Jarel, Joan Jett, Joan La Barbara, Jobriath, Joe Beck, Joe Chambers, Joe Venuti, Joe Wilder, Joey Corpus, Johannes Kelpius, Johannes von Trapp, John Adriano Acea, John Blake, John Coltrane, John Corabi, John Gilmore, John LaPorta, John Whitehead, Jon Fishman, Jon Gutwillig, Joseph Tarsia, Josh Wink, Journalist, JuJu Mob, Jukebox the Ghost, Julia Wolfe, Jus Allah, Justin Guarini, Jymie Merritt, Karl Pohlig, Katherine Hoover, Katie Crippen, Keith,

Keith Andes, Kenny Barron, Kevin Eubanks, Kevin Michael, Khia, Kid Dynamite, Kill Verona, Kindred the Family Soul, King Britt, King Syze, The Kinleys, Kitty Kallen, Kurt Vile, Kurupt, Labelle, Lady B, Larry Ferrari, Larsiny Family, The Last Emperor, Laura Shay, Lee Andrews & the Hearts, Lee Morgan, Lee Ving, Len Barry, Leo Smit, Leon Bates, Leonard MacClain, Lester Lanin, Lew Tabackin, Lewis Redner, Liam and Me, Lilys, Linda Creed, Linda Sharrock, Lindsay Pagano, Lionel Barrymore,

Lisa Lopes, Lisa Roma, Little Joe Cook, Lloyd Parks, Lobo Nocho, Lon Satton, Lou Bennett, Lou Stein, Louis Karchin, The Loved Ones, The Low Budgets, Lydia Artymiw, Major Figgas, Malik B., Man Man, Marah, Marc Blitzstein, Marc Nelson, Marian Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, Mario Lanza, Mark Andes, Mark Kramer, Mark Tulin, Marsha Hunt, Martín Perna, Matisyahu, Matt Pond PA, McCoy Tyner, McFadden & Whitehead, Meek Mill, Melinda Wagner, Melody Gardot, Mendelssohn Club, MewithoutYou,

MFSB, Michael Bacon, Michael Brecker, Michael Caruso, Michael McCary, Michael Philip Mossman, Michael Schelle, Michael Sembello, Mick Moloney, Mike Brenner, Mike City, Mike Merritt, Mike Pedicin, Mirah, Mocean Worker, Modern Baseball, Mondo Topless, Mose Giganticus, Mountain Brothers, The Movement, Ms. Jade, Musiq Soulchild, Mutlu Onaral, Nathan Morris, Nazz, Neef Buck, Nelson Eddy, Neo da Matrix, New Born, Nick Falcon, Nick Perri, Nick Travis, Nickelz, Nona Hendryx,

Norman Connors, Norman Harris, The Notekillers, Nouveau Riche, Ohene, Omillio Sparks, One Star Hotel, Opera Philadelphia, Orchestra 2001, The Orlons, Orpheus Club of Philadelphia, OuterSpace, Paint It Black, Pamela Williams, Pat Martino, Pattern Is Movement, Patti LaBelle, Paul Green, Paul Motian, Peedi Peedi, The People's Choice, Pepper's Ghost, Percy Heath, Phanatik, Phil Roy, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company,

Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus, Philadelphia Grand Opera Company, Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company, Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company, Philadelphia Opera Company, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Philadelphia Slick, Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Philly Joe Jones, Philly Pops, Philly's Most Wanted, Photon Band, Phyllis Hyman, Pieces of a Dream, Piffaro, Pink, Planetary, Plastic Little, Preston Ware Orem, Princess Superstar, Pure Hell, Questlove,

Random, Randy Brecker, Ray Benson, Ray Bryant, Ray Ellis, Raymond Louis Kennedy, Raynor Taylor, Ready Rock C, Red Rodney, Reef the Lost Cauze, Reggie Workman, Reilly, Relâche, The Renaissance Band, Res, Reverie, Rex Stewart, Richard Zeckwer, Richie Kamuca, RJD2, Robbie Tronco, Robert Conti, Robert Crumb, Robert Hazard, Robert Lowry, Robert Moran, Robin Eubanks, Ron Kersey, The Roots, Roscoe, Rosetta, Rosetta Hightower, Rudy Lewis, Rumpelstiltskin Grinder,

Ruse of Fools, Russ Castella, Russell Thompkins, Sacrament, Sam Dockery, Sam Fogarino, Santigold, The Sapphires, Sarah Dash, Saxon Shore, Scott Sorry, Scott Storch, Scratch, Sean Costello, The Sensations, Septimus Winner, Serpent Throne, Shai Linne, Sharon Little, Shawn Stockman, Sheila Ferguson, Shep Shepherd, The Sherrys, The Showstoppers, The Silhouettes, Simon Apple, Sister Sledge, Sol Kaplan, Solomon Burke, Sonny Dae and His Knights, Sonny Fortune,

Sorry and the Sinatras, The Soul Survivors, Spank Rock, Spanky DeBrest, Spanky Wilson, Specs Wright, The Spooks, Spruce Street Singers, Sr., Stan Getz, Stanley Clarke, State Property, Steady B, Stephen Costello, Steve Berlin, Steve Guyger, Steve Tirpak, Stick Men, Stinking Lizaveta, The Strychnine Babies, Sun Ra, Sundray Tucker, Sunny Murray, Susanne Mentzer, Swearin', The Swimmers, T'Melle, Tammi Terrell, Tav Falco, Taylor Bright, Ted Curson, Teddy & The Twilights,

Teddy McRae, The Teeth, Terell Stafford, This Day Forward, Thom Bell, The Three 4 Tens, The Three Degrees, Three Times Dope, Tim Williams, Tin Bird Choir, Todd Rundgren, Tom Glazer, Tommy Bryant, Tone Trump, Toni Basil, Toy Soldiers, The Tridels, Trip Lee, The Trouble with Sweeney, Trudy Pitts, Tuff Crew, The Tyrones, Uri Caine, The Urxed, Vacationer, Valencia, The Valerie Project, The Vels, Victor Bailey, Vikter Duplaix, Vincent Montana, Vincent Persichetti, Vinnie Paz, The Virtues, The Virus,

Vittorio Giannini, Vivian Green, Vivienne Segal, Voices of Theory, Walt Dickerson, Wanderlust, Wanya Morris, The War on Drugs, Warren Covington, Ween, Whitehead Bros., Whitney Peyton, Wilbur Evans, Wilbur Ware, William Gilchrist, William Henry Fry, Willie Alexander, Willie Dennis, Wolfpac, The Wonder Years, Work Drugs, World Blanket, Wykked Wytch, Wyldfyer, Yameen, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Young Chris, Young Gunz, The Young Werewolves
, and Ziggy Elman


Waiting for the train to New York City

I hope that I can come back soon and explore more of Philadelphia's neighborhoods, food, and attractions so let me know if you can help that happen. If you'd like to read my adventures in Southern California, check out California Fool's Gold -- and follow Eric's Blog.

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Seoul

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 19, 2014 07:53pm | Post a Comment

Welcome sign at Brookhurst

Drive down Garden Grove Boulevard with your windows up (paying proper attention to the road in front of you) and you might not notice that you're passing through Little Seoul. There are no banners, memorials, murals, monuments or that many fluttering South Korean flags. Pass through on a bus and maybe you'll notice the Hangul signs and blue tile roofs. The best way to experience Little Seoul, despite some drawbacks, is by walking in it – although your hair might pick up the smell like bulgogi by the end of your ramble. The other day I headed over there to explore it, accompanied by Una Zipagan and host of the excellent Notebook on Cities and Culture podcast, Colin Marshall

Another blue tile community


Los Angeles currently has the largest population Korean-Americans. In fact, 17% of all Korean-Americans live somewhere in the Southland. Korean business districts have sprung up in Los Angeles's Koreatown and Garden Grove's Little Seoul as well as in Buena Park, Cerritos, Fullerton, Rowland Heights and elsewhere whilst Koreans have more often chosen to make their homes in places like Anaheim, Gardena, Glendale, Hacienda Heights, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Palma, Santa Clarita, and Torrance (as well as Buena Park, Cerritos, Fullerton, and Rowland Heights).

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of North Orange County

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Garden Grove

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of Little Seoul

Although Koreatown is incontestably the main Korean business district in the entire US, Little Seoul – located about 50 kilometers southeast – is no slouch. By some estimations it's the second largest Korean business district on the West Coast and the fourth largest Korean business district in the nation. Even in Little Seoul, Koreatown's dominance is reflected by the telltale Wilshire addresses of most of the newspapers's offices and business names like Wilshire Bank but the cultural exchange is not completely one-sided; when Colin spotted Ondal Restaurant, he alerted Una and I that Koreatown is home to Ondal 2.

Little Seoul – or officially and less charmingly “The Korean Business District” -- is located along a 3.5 kilometer stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard in the city of Garden Grove, abutting against the much larger enclave of Little Saigon. The population of Garden Grove is currently about 38% Asian-American, although 73% of that percentage are Vietnamese. Koreans, after Vietnamese, are the second largest Asian ethnicity in Orange County and Korean is the fourth most spoken language in Orange County homes.



The first Korean to become a naturalized citizen was Philip Jaisohn (Seo Jae-Pil ), who arrived in the US in 1885 as a political exile. In 1902, King Gojong, the first emperor of Korea, granted Koreans the right to work abroad and following that, hundreds and soon thousands of Koreans were lured to American-occupied Hawaii, where the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association courted Asians of various ethnicities (so that solidarity and strikes would be difficult to achieve and undertake) to work on their plantations. 

Racist and completely ineffective sidewalk appeal in Little Seoul (possibly written by John McCain)

Koreans faced considerable ignorance and hostility both there and in the mainland. In 1913, California passed a law prohibiting all Asians from buying property. That same year Korean farmers were attacked in Hemet by an anti-Japanese mob of idiots. In 1924, the US Congress passed the Oriental Exclusion Act which barred all Asians from immigrating. Some Koreans, however, were admitted into the US on student visas and by the 1930s, there was a community of a few hundred Koreans living primarily in Chesterfield Square and Vermont Square, two neighborhoods on South Los Angeles's Westside located near the campus of USC.

After the surrender of Japan to the Allies in 1945, Korea (which had been officially “annexed” by Japan in 1910) was divided by the victors of World War II at the 38th parallel. Tensions between North and South Korea escalated into all out war in 1950 and a stalemate was achieved in 1953, after perhaps one million had perished. The McCarran-Walter Act was passed in 1952 which allowed for increased immigration from South Korea. In the years that followed, war brides and mixed-race orphans joined students and professionals in the ranks of Koreans heading to America. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed for even larger numbers of immigrants and, after Filipinos, Koreans became the second fastest-growing Asian ethnicity in the US.

The seeds of Koreatown were planted in in Los Angeles in 1969, when Lee Hi Duk opened Olympic Market on Olympic Boulevard in Wilshire Center. Lee opened several more businesses and by the mid-1970s, Koreatown was established and growing, although it wasn't officially recognized until 1980. Koreatown spread outward in all directions from Olympic, including into South Los Angeles, where there were well-publicized incidents of racial tension. Most infamously, in 1991, a black 15-year-old named Latasha Harlins was shot and killed by a Korean shop keep, Soon Ja Du, at Empire Liquor in Vermont Vista. When the Los Angeles Riots erupted on 29 April, 1992, Koreatown was hit especially hard and 40% of all looted businesses in the city were Korean owned. The incident came to be widely known amongst Korean-Americans as “Sa-I-Gu” (4-2-9).

It has sometimes been hypothesized that the riots were one of the primary catalysts for Koreans' exodus to the suburbs but in fact that movement had been occurring for a while. Koreatown was and is often an entry point for Korean immigrants who in many cases choose to then make their homes in communities with highly ranked school districts rather than convenient access to Korean shopping districts. By 1980 there were more than 11,000 Koreans living in Orange County (nowadays there are Korean populations that exceed that figure in several Orange County cities) and the Korean businesses district of Garden Grove was already firmly established.


Garden Grove was founded by Alonzo Cook in 1874 and the agricultural town's economy depended in its early years on the production of apricots, chickens, chilies, grapes, oranges, peaches, strawberries, and walnuts. When Garden Grove incorporated in 1956, the population had grown to about 44,000 -- mostly white, working class folks would followed the post-war suburban sprawl emanating from the nearby Harbor area and its aerospace industry and transformed the city into an almost entirely residential one.

Garden Grove Boulevard (originally Ocean Boulevard) was designated Highway 22 in 1934. It was the primary thoroughfare until 1965, when construction of the Garden Grove Freeway began, slashing and burning its way through the city and having an especially deleterious effect on the area immediately surrounding it. In the 1970s, a redevelopment program was launched to reverse Garden Grove's declining fortunes. In neighboring Westminster, similarly caught in a downward spiral, anti-Communist (and therefore presumably uber-Capitalist) Vietnamese were wooed to bring business to Bolsa Avenue. Around the same time the first Korean businesses began to appear three kilometers north in Garden Grove.

Possible throwback to the good ol' days -- Romantix and Hip Pocket Adult Bookstore

The Ranch Motel

The stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard that's now home to Little Seoul was then largely undeveloped although there were a couple of strip clubs, adult video stores, seedy motels. One such lodge, the Ranch Motel, was the site of the grisly torture and murder of a Huntington Beach prostitute in 1985. By then the Korean redevelopment of the area was already underway.

Xenophobe-baiting Hangul-heavy sign (with faux gas lamp)

As with Koreatown, the first Korean business established in Little Seoul was a supermarket [was it the now-closed Han Nam Supermarket?]. By 1980 there were 80 Korean-owned businesses in the neighborhood and in 1981, the first Korean Festival was held in nearby Garden Grove Park. The name “Little Seoul” was applied at least as early as 1986 and predictably complaints were made by some about signs written in Hangul. In 2001, signs designating the area the “Korean Business District” were placed at the eastern and western ends of Little Seoul. 

(Click here to read my account of exploring Garden Grove)


OCTA stop in Little Seoul

Right now Little Seoul is served by Orange County Transit Authority's bus lines 29, 33, 35, and 56. The neighborhood is located just west of the old West Santa Ana Branch Line of the Pacific Electric Railway, which connected Santa Ana to Watts until 1950. For the time being the closest train station is 13 kilometers east in the city of Orange. Metro is working on ultimately restoring rail to the neighborhood with its West Santa Ana Transit Corridor project but when that will be completed (or even begun) remains to be seen. 

Vodie's Alignment & Brakes

Luckily, Little Seoul is quite flat and therefore quite easily bikeable and walkable -- provided one is physically able and psychologically predisposed. Garden Grove Boulevard still often gives the impression of being a freeway and the lack of buffering road verges, measurable amounts of shade, benches, or even other pedestrians as well as the inward orientation of businesses and the close proximity of the sidewalks to speeding cars give off a sort of pedestrian-hostile vibe. Walkscore doesn't have a figure for Little Seoul but assigns a score of just 55 out of 100 to the city of Garden Grove. If you need a bicycle, Little Seoul is home to Garden Grove Bike Shop.

A rare, non-linear view of Little Seoul 


If you'd like to stay in Little Seoul overnight, there are several lodging options. There's the aforementioned Ranch Motel, built in 1956 and the Tropic Motel, built in 1955. Perhaps the best motel sign award goes to the Grove Motel.

Other nearby lodges include Best Western Palm Garden Inn, Hospitality Inn-Garden Grove, Little Saigon Inn, Morada Inn & Suites, and Ramada Plaza Garden Grove/Anaheim South.


In contrast to nearby Little Saigon, where on Sundays parking lots are packed both with men hanging out in folding chairs and bad drivers, Little Seoul proved to be decidedly quiet. Many of the parking lots were almost completely empty. Some even had improbably long gates extending across their entrances. When a car alarm sounded in the distance, it only underscored just how quiet it all was.

From the sidewalk it was sometimes difficult to tell which businesses were open, which were closed, and which were completely vacant but we soon learned that within the air-conditioned environment of the great indoors, there were buzzing pockets of activity (if nothing that even approaches the level of pedestrian-dense-and-friendly Koreatown or I suspect, big Seoul) 

Today the number of Korean businesses in Little Seoul reportedly exceeds 1,000. Although most of people that I spotted entering and leaving the neighborhood residences seemed in most cases to be Latino, Anglo, or Vietnamese, under the roofs of the sprawling markets the clientele were almost (with the exception of ourselves) exclusively either Vietnamese or Korean.


Despite its lack of accommodations for pedestrians, there are few errands that one couldn't conceivably accomplish on foot or by bicycle in Little Seoul. The neighborhood is full of dentists offices, spas, optometrists, hair salons, &c.

Police and psychics in the streets

Lost Treasures (Found! on the roof)

Since I most tourists (Korean-American non-Korean alike) are drawn to Korean businesses districts for the food, I'll start there. And because they made Little Seoul possible and still prove to be the centers of human activity, I'll begin with the supermarkets.

Shop smart, shop H-Mart

Inside Arirang Supermarket 

Until a couple of years ago there were three markets to which to pledge one's allegiance. Han Nam Supermarket closed and now, Arirang Supermarket (A.R. Supermarket) and H-Mart compete for commerce and Yelp reviews. Meanwhile a new Wal-mart Neighborhood Market sits poised and ready to possibly destroy both although it's hard to imagine a Wal-mart supporting the food courts and various other shops that make Arirang and H Mart take on the appearance of something akin to a swap meet crossed with a town square.

Shops and food court at H-Mart

Curly-haired cubist men must push their carts behind the X to their McMansions


Korean cuisine is one of those foods that has been cautiously and only partially embraced by most Americans, who seem perfectly happy to draw the line at BBQ, Hite beer, and maybe Korean tacos whilst casting a needlessly suspicious eye at the many any varieties of soups, stews, noodles, rice dishes, banchan, anju, sea vegetables, and sweets.

Thanks in large part to Buddhism (and Buddha's vegetarianism) Korean cuisine is not as vegetarian-unfriendly as many wary vegetarians might suppose. Most restaurants can make a vegetarian bibimbap and even when the menu lists no vegetarian items, I've still never been to a Korean restaurant in Southern California where the cook wasn't capable of making a tasty and filling vegetarian dish... especially if you add alcohol to the mix. 

Han Guk Kwan (right?) where we ate lunch

We started our day at "pariba" (Paris Baguette) albeit the location in St. Andrew's Square. Later we ate in a food court at a place whose sign simply stated something like "Korean Place." In addition to the “purely” Korean restaurants, there are Korean takes on Chinese cuisines, donuts, french pastries, pizza, and sushi and Seoul Do Soon Yi Kimchi Company, a locale kimchi manufacturer. 

Looking through the door of Past Memories (recommended by Colin)

Here's the (incomplete) list of local Korean eats: An Ocean's Story, Anna's Mondu, BCD Tofu House, Boba Loca, Bonjuk, Cafe-T, Cham Sut Gol Korean BBQChu Ga Jip, Chung Dam Keul, Flower Pig, Donut Time, Ga Bo Ja Restaurant, Gae Sung Restaurant, Go Goo Ryeo, Ham-Hung Restaurant, Han WooriHangari Hwang Hae Doh, Hangari Kalgooksu, Hodori Snack, Incheonwan BBQ House, Jang Choong Dong, Jang Mo Gip, Jang TohJong Ro Shul Lung Tang, Kaju Tofu, Korean Folk Village Restaurant, Lee Sook Won Kimchi, Light Town House Korean BBQLove Letter Pizza & Chicken, Mi Ho Restaurant, Mo Ran Gak, Muse Coffee Shop, Myung In Dumplings, New Seoul BBQ Buffet Restaurant, Obok Bakery, Ondal Restaurant, Paris Baguette, Past Memories, Peking Gourmet, Poong Nap Dong, Seoul Soondae Restaurant, Shik Do Rak, Siroo, Smile RestaurantStar BBQ, The Pine, Tous Les JoursYeh Won Korean Restaurant, and Young Pung

Non-Korean eats (but often either Korean owned-and-oriented or Vietnamese) in the neighborhood include Aloha Teriyaki, Alerto's Mexican Food, Artist Crawfish Express, Casa de Soto, David's Vietnamese Restaurant, Diamond Seafood Plaza, Diem Hen, Dzui Lounge, Genki Living, Hong Kong Express, Kim’s RestaurantM & Tôi Vietnamese Restaurant, May Bon Phuong Restaurant, Misoya Rockin' Sushi, Pho and Rolls Vietnamese Cuisine, Pho 2000, Phu Sandwich, and Phuoc Thanh.


The no-use mixed-use Garden Grove Galleria

Construction of the Garden Grove Galleria began in 2005. The original design called for two levels of shops, six levels of condos, and given its size it was set to become an icon of the neighborhood. Construction halted in 2008 and in 2010, the Garden Grove Galleria sued Cathay Bank for a breach of contract. Two months later Cathay counter-sued for essentially the same. More suits followed and the design plans were changed -- the condos were to become apartments -- but nine years later it still stands, only partially complete and rusting.

Quiet Koreatown Mall

Good times just around the corner at New Seoul Plaza

Hanmi Plaza

Quiet Arirang Galleria (built in 2009 and mostly empty)

Complete and functioning (if sometimes barely) shopping centers in Little Seoul including Arirang Galleria, Brookhurst North Shopping Center, Garden Grove Shopping Center, Gilbert Plaza, Golden Plaza, Hanmi Plaza, Ka-Ju Plaza, Korea Plaza, Koreatown Mall, New Seoul Plaza, Newland Plaza, Newton Plaza, Town-Center Plaza, and Western Shopping Center.


The lushly-landscaped Frat House

Rendezvous Nightclub

Idol Karaoke

Cafeoke Ding Dong Dang

B & G Karaoke -- "Grand Reborn"

Business hours in Little Seoul vary greatly but the nightlife seems to make its home in Club Rendevous, Frat House (not a dudebro sports bar) and Soju Belly as well as karaoke clubs (noraebong), which include B & G KaroakeCafeoke Ding Dong Dang, Karaoke Nice, and Idol Karaoke.

Sunday morning at 2000 Points Billiards

Hyundai Billiard or GG Billiards and Ping Pong

There are also several billiard and ping-pong halls too, including GG Billiards and Ping Pong (also listed as Hyundai Billiard), 2000 Points Billiards (which also has ping-pong), and King Billiard (which may or may not have ping pong).

Liquor and Bikes -- A liquor store and Garden Grove Bicycle Shop 

There are more liquor stores than bars in the neighborhood although we ventured into none. Several have nice signage.

A liquor store with a nice, fake gas lamp (a common decoration) atop the sign


In South Korea, only 53% of Koreans identify themselves as religious. Of those, about 29% are Christian and 23% of South Koreans self-identify as Buddhists. In the US it's a different story. In 1902, Changho Ahn and his wife established the first Korean American Church and today, roughly 71% of Korean-Americans self-identify as Christian.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

I'm sure that some of the Korean churches in the area were built by different denominations but ones occupied by Korean denominations now include Gospel First Korean Baptist Church, Korean Garden Grove United Methodist ChurchSaint Anselm of Canterbury Episcopal Church of Garden, and Suh Moon Presbyterian Church. Despite it being a Sunday morning and a Korean neighborhood, the churches all seemed to be oddly quiet. Only 6% of Korean-Americans identify as Buddhists and in Little Seoul there are just two temples from which to choose, Bupwahng sa Korean Buddhist Temple and Orange County Won Buddhist Temple.


Martial Arts and Golf

Little Seoul is perhaps to small to support an actual arts scene. I'm only aware of one arts-oriented space in Little Seoul, Seoul Oriental Art Gallery. There are seemingly more organizations devoted to the martial arts than the creative, performing, or visual. Those institutions include Five Star Tae Kwon Do & Martial Arts, Kenpo United Karate Kung-Fu Studios, King’s Martial Arts, Musashi Martial Arts, Nam Phan Mixed Martial Arts Academy, Orange County Judo Training Center, Shaolin Warrior Academy, Shotokan Karate of Garden Grove, and Yoon Tae Kwon Do School.

Video Town or ghost town? Either way, they still have some copies of Six Days, Seven Nights in the back

A video store in Koreatown Mall

Inside the above video store -- which mostly deal in VHS and sells VCRs

I don't know of any movies shot in Little Seoul or any actors or filmmakers from there. I don't know of any live music venues or bands from there either. There are some mom-and-pop shops, many of which sell or rent video, music, and video games. There's Han Nam Video, Music Town, Sam's Video, Saranbang Video, 20th Century Video, (Spanish language-centric) Video 9, Video Village, and Western Video

Come for the Korean dramas and pick up some seed packets... and a steering wheel cover (or two)

The only music store that I saw was Immanuel Music, which carries a large selection of guitars, violins, and metronomes. There's also at least one music school, Spotlight School of Music.


Being such a small area, there aren't a lot of parks within the neighborhood and as I mentioned, most of the activity seems to take place indoors (or in cars). However, should you wish to go outside, there's Acacia Park, Garden Grove Park (including Garden Grove Dog Park and the Atlantis Play Center), Kiwanisland, and Liberty Park


Though probably un-named -- Donut Time seems to be the popular hangout for male, Korean, retirees and (like as with many donut shops) seems to serve as a sort of de facto community center. More official outlets for community engagement can be pursued through the Little Seoul or the Orange County Korean Community, the Korean American Coalition, the Korean American Federation of Orange County Garden Grove, Korean Community Services, the Korean-American Seniors Assn Garden Grove, the Korean American Youth & Community Center, the OC Korean Community Center, the Orange County Korean American Bar Association, the Orange County Korean Festival Foundation, the Orange County Korean Community Service Center, and Orange County Korean Social Service Information Center.


There is no "Little Seoul" edition from the Images of America series (although there is Katherine Yungmee Kim's Los Angeles' Koreatown). There's also Angie Y. Chung's Legacies of Struggle: Conflict and Cooperation in Korean American Politics, which goes a bit into Little Seoul but near as I can tell, there are as yet no books the primary focus of which is on Little Seoul.


Dorcas Orange Christian

Korean Bookstore

There are a couple of bookstores in the neighborhood: Dorcas Orange Christian, Korean Bookstore, and World of Life Books. Also nearby is the Westminster Branch Library and Garden Grove Regional Library. There are also popular newspapers like Korea Times and Korea Daily (both available in English language versions as well as Korean) and more locally focused paper, The Town News. The first two are headquartered in Koreatown but perhaps maintain bureaus in Little Seoul whereas The Town News is actually headquartered in Little Seoul.

The Korea Daily

Radio Korea in Koreatown Mall

You can tune into the sounds of Korean-America by setting your dial to several Korean radio stations. There's Radio Korea (1540 KMPCPasadena’s 1230 KYPA – Radio JBC (Joongang Broadcast Company), and Hancock Park’s 1650 KFOX – Radio SeoulIf you're feeling spiritual, 1190 KGBN is the home of the Korean Gospel Broadcasting Network.

Pulp's "Little Seoul," my generations' "Catz in teh Cradle"


As always, please contribute your additions and corrections. Enjoy exploring Southern California, just start at Hollywood & Highland and go in any direction away from there and I guarantee it will get more interesting. To vote vote for other Orange County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. Please leave any additions, corrections, or shared memories in the comment section. 행쇼 

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring San Clemente, The Spanish Village in Orange County

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 10, 2013 03:28pm | Post a Comment

Mid-20th century postcard from San Clemente

Until the visit that Una and I took to San Clemente this past weekend, I don’t think that I’d ever visited the place. I’m not entirely sure because nearly all of my trips south on the 5 have ended in Mexico and the stretch of freeway between South Orange County and San Diego County has blended together in my mind into white-walled, red-roofed blur. I may very well stopped in San Clemente to refill the gas tank on at least one occasion but, again, I have no recollection. Now, however, after having spent a weekend there and exploring mostly on foot (the best way to explore) I promise that I won’t confuse San Clemente for any other red-tile community.


San Clemente is the southernmost city in South County. This is inarguable in a geographic sense and arguable in a symbolic sense as well. South Orange County is generally and night entirely inaccurately characterized as a predominantly white, politically conservative, and wealthy place.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of South Orange County

San Clemente is predominantly white -- 76% white (compared to 44% for the county as a whole) although to me it seemed even whiter. However, slow change is afoot and in the past thirty years, the Latino population has more than doubled whilst the Anglo population has shrunk by 14%. According to the 2010 census, the population of San Clemente is 17% Latino but that seemed to me much lower. My perception versus the facts might have to do with the fact that I stayed near North Beach and spent most of my time exploring Downtown and the area next to the ocean -- areas that are possibly much whiter than others. In two days I only heard Spanish being spoken on three occasions, including once in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant. Asian-Americans make up just 4% of San Clemente's population, and blacks and Native Americans both make up less than 1% of the population. 

Politically speaking, 56% of San Clemente's population are registered Republicans (compared to 42% for the county as a whole) which is, of course, a majority although maybe less of one than the prevailing stereotypes suggest.

Finally, although there are definitely some very rich folks in San Clemente, the median household income of the community lies somewhere toward the middle, not just of South County, but of all of Orange County. Those seaside and hilltop mansions surely command a high price but it's not every blueblood that would choose to live near an occasionally leaking nuclear energy plant and a military base.

The city seal and flower (bougainvilleas)

It's hard for me to generalize after one weekend but it does seem to me like San Clemente has accepted that it's not a village in Segovia -- white and brown residents alike seem to eat la cena when Spaniards would still be munching on la merienda. The prevailing fantasy nowadays seems to be that it's located not in South County but in the South Pacific. It seemed like everywhere I turned I saw Hawaiian shirts, tikis, and of course, non-native palm trees. I was more surprised to discover signs and menus containing terms like "a hui ho," "mahalo" and "haole." By the time I heard Israel Kamakawiwoʻole emanating from an unseen speaker, I barely took notice. I will also generalize that, aside from the truckload of town boys who yelled at me to "go back to" (something unintelligible), the populace struck me as one of the most friendly that I've yet encountered. 



San Clemente is a small city comprised of several areas and neighborhoods with various levels of distinguishability. Una and I stayed in the proposed North Beach Historic District which has a vibe different from much of the municipality. There’s also a small Downtown, as well as tracts and subdivisions, including Cantomar, Compass Pointe, Cotton Hill, Forster Highlands (including Ashton, Forster Ranch, Las Veredas, Marblehead, Marblehead Coastal, Montego Homes, Rancho Christianitos, Rancho San Clemente, The Reserve, Ridgemore, and San Angelo), Sea Point Estates, Shore Cliff Villas, Southwest San Clemente, Talega, and probably others. Shortly before returning to Los Angeles we took Big Red up into the Santa Ana foothills where ridiculously grand triumphal entrance signs proclaim the existence of seemingly brand new suburban tracts that seem to have been just planted at the edge of civilization. 
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of San Clemente

Beyond these scrubby hills to the northeast are the peaks of the Santa Ana Mountains and the largest of the unincorporated areas of Orange County. Beyond that lies Riverside County. To the southeast is the mostly undeveloped northwestern corner of San Diego County that’s home to a nuclear station and military base. To San Clemente’s northwest are the communities of Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano. To the west is the Pacific Ocean. About 70 kilometers across the water is Santa Catalina Island and south of that, San Clemente Island -- the two large, actual Islands that are part of LA County.

Although you can't really make it out in the photo, that's San Clemente Island on the horizon


For most of human history the area that’s now home to San Clemente was home to the Acagchemem nation. For about 8,000 years their homeland extended from Aliso Creek in the north to Las Pulgas Canyon in the south. One of their largest villages was Panhe, situated near San Mateo Creek and home to an estimated population of 300 or so people. Nearby to the south, along San Juan Creek,  was another significant village, Sajayit.


In 1769 (long before Ole Hanson dreamt of a Spanish Village by the Sea) actual Spaniards arrived in the area as part of Gaspar de Portolá’s overland expedition to Monterey Bay in the north and claimed the land for New Spain. The expedition passed through modern-day San Clemente in late July and, while there, Father Crespi baptized two Acagchem in Cristianitos Canyon which are said to be the first baptisms conducted in Alta California. An historical monument, La Cristianita Monument, commemorates the occasion. The Spanish established Mission San Juan Capistrano nearby (in modern-day San Juan Capistrano) in 1776 and re-named the newly-subjugated aborigines “Juaneños.” The mission imported herds of cattle to graze the area and produce tallow and hides, much of which was traded at the embarcadero in what’s now Dana Point.


After eleven bloody years of conflict, New Spain achieved independence and Alta California became part of the new nation of Mexico. Under Mexico the Spanish Missions were secularized and their lands divided amongst private owners. The lands formerly belonging to the nearby Mission first became the property of Mexican Governor Pio Pico. In 1837, Scouse-Mexican John “Don Juan” Forster married Pio Pico’s sister, Dona Ysidora Pico, and therein acquired part of Pico’s lands. Much of the land that now makes up San Clemente was also part of Rancho Los Desechos, which was granted to Felipe Carrillo and subsequently acquired by Don Juan. Rancho Boca de la Playa (the lands of which included parts of modern day Capistrano Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente) was granted to Emigdio Véjar, who’d overseen operations at the mission until 1845.


The US conquered California in 1848 and admitted it to the Union in 1850. As required by the Land Act of 1851, the previous land owners continued their ownership under their new rulers. Véjar sold his ranch to Juan Avila, who already owned Rancho Niguel, and who passed away in 1863. After that, the land passed to Avila’s son-in-law, Pablo Pryor, who died of poisoning in 1878. In 1883, a large portion of land passed to John Forster’s son, Marcus, and by 1887 the Forster family had acquired most of the land in the area.


The Transcontinental Railroad extended into Southern California in 1876 but the lands that would become San Clemente were still primarily traversed by stagecoach along the Spanish El Camino Real until 1888. That year the Santa Fe Railroad arrived from the south, terminating in neighboring San Juan Capistrano and thereby linking southernmost Los Angeles County to San Diego. In 1901, rail reached San Francisco. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe ultimately built a train depot in San Clemente in 1931 although it closed in 1940 and was demolished in 1964.


Orange County seceded from Los Angeles County in 1889 and Santa Ana (about 50 km away) was made the new seat of the newly formed county. In 1906, Max and Herman Goldschmidt formed a partnership with Cornelio Echenique (one of Don Juan’s grandson-in-laws) and they acquired 10,500 acres of land. The Goldschmidts planted vineyards in what has been cow pastures but, with the advent of Prohibition in 1919, their booze farm fell on hard times and they sold their land to millionaire oil baron, banker, cotton broker, businessman, rancher, and DemocratHamilton H. “Ham” Cotton.


The next significant figure in the history of San Clemente was the most important -- Ole Hanson. Ole Hanson was a Norwegian-American born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1874 and passed the Wisconsin bar in 1893. He began working in real estate and co-founded the planned community of Lake Forest Park, Washington in 1912. In 1914 he ran for US Senate on the Bull Moose ticket but lost to a Republican.

In 1918 he was elected mayor of Seattle. Early in Hanson’s mayorship, the Seattle General Strike of 1919 took place in which over 65,000 workers attempted to gain higher wages and better working conditions by staging a general work stoppage. Hanson compared the striking workers to Bolsheviks (this was the beginning of the Red Scare), claimed that the strike was a Communist revolution (although he acknowledged that their means were non-violent), and brought in thousands of police and special deputies who he threatened would shoot any man who attempted to take over the government. The strike ended after five days.

Two months after the strike was broken, an attempt was made on Hanson's life by anarchist disciples of Luigi Galleani and four months after that he resigned. Hanson next toured the country lecturing audiences about the dangers of Bolshevism in America in which he warned audiences that unless the American labor movement was squashed the country would witness widespread “murder, rape, pillage, arson, free love, poverty, want, starvation, filth, slavery, autocracy, suppression, sorrow and Hell on earth.” [The fact that "free love" is included in that list of terrors amuses me endlessly].


In the 1920s, Hanson re-entered the real estate development world, this time in Southern California. The Spanish Colonial Revival fad had really taken off after the 1915 The Panama-California Expositionin San Diego and in 1921 Hanson bought and developed the Slauson Tract in South Los Angeles with 2,000 Spanish Colonial Revival homes. He also became part owner of the Potter Hotel in Santa Barbara and, after the 1925 earthquake that destroyed much of town, saw Santa Barbara rebuilt as a Spanish Colonial community. 

In 1925, Hanson and a syndicate headed by Cotton designed an 8km2 planned community located roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego and named after San Clemente Island. It too would be a Spanish Colonial village and all plans were required by deed to be reviewed by an architectural board to ensure that they were in keeping with his vision, which he described as “…hundreds of white-walled homes bonneted with red tile, with trees, shrubs, hedges of hibiscus, palms and geraniums lining the drives, and a profusion of flowers framing the patios and gardens.”
Architects employed in the design of early San Clemente structures included Carl Lindbom, E. W. Klausen, Eli Simonson, J. H. Nicholson, J. Wilmer Hershey, Leo Smith, Paul McAlister, Paul R. Williams, Richard Sears, Virgil Westbrook, Wessel Kousen, and LeRoy and Arthur Sprang.


San Clemente was officially founded on St. Nicholas Day (6 December) in 1925. The earliest buildings of this instant Spanish village were spread around 125 acres crisscrossed with freshly laid and deliberately winding roads. Hanson wanted the community to be self-contained and self-sufficient and established an iron works, encaustic tile manufacturing plant, a school, a church, a hospital, and other things he thought a self-sufficient town might need. Hanson's vision seems to have convinced others and just 22 months after its foundation, the Los Angeles Times declared the overnight city as “a complete modern community.”


Hanson’s family home, Casa Romanticawas designed by Carl Lindbom and built overlooking the sea in 1927. It was actually named “Casa Romantica” in 1946 by its then owners, Lambert and Patricia Schuyler.

In 1952 it was re-named “Casa Blanca” by Muria and Leslie Whitehouse, although its name at some point reverted. In 1960 it became a home for seniors, which it operated as until 1984 when it became a private event space. In 2000 it became a cultural center and garden and to this day its open to visitors and is asolutely a must-visit both for the home itself and the amazing views of the Pacific, the Channel Islands, and Dana Point that it affords. 


Carl Lindbom also designed the Cotton Estate, with the centerpiece home modeled after a country home in San Sebastian, Spain. When Cotton lived there he hosted on at least one occasion, President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1969, newly-elected president (and Orange County native) Richard Nixon bought the home from Cotton’s widow. Nixon christened the home La Casa Pacifica but it was more popularly known as “The Western White House.” During his presidency Richard and Pat played host to political figures like Eisaku Sato, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Hennry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, Lyndon Johnson, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu as well as Richard's buddy, Bebe Robozo.

After his resignation from office in 1974,  the Nixons lived at Casa Pacifica and the former president there wrote his memoirs. During the same period Pat was the subject of Lester David’s The Lonely Lady of San Clemente (1978). The famous Frost/Nixon interviews were planned to be taped there but were moved due to radio interference. In 1980 the Nixon’s moved to Park Ridge, New Jersey but Nixon still has a special place in the hearts of many in San Clemente and there's even a Nixon Room downtown, which looked from the outside to be a sort of restaurant/museum/exhibition room. Meanwhile over at Casa Pacifica (4100 Calle Isabella) a guard and gates prevent visitors from finding out whether or not the private home has been preserved as a sort of '70s time capsule.

The exterior of the Nixon Room (note the chimney)


The Administration Building (1926), which originally served as Ole Hanson's offices

The Bartlett Building (1926), built for Edward Barlett, is the second oldest building in town

the Ann Harding House (1926), built for actress Ann Harding

418 Cazador Lane, built in 1926

Hotel San Clemente (1927) -- now apartments

The San Clemente Community Center, the Ole Hanson Room of which dates from 1927

Sea Cliff Villas (aka the Robison House), built in 1927 for Bertha and Emma Wierk

San Clemente was incorporated as a city on 27 February, 1928. A few months later, Tod Bates wrote a piece about the fledgling community titled “City of Spain Reproduced in Southern California” for an issue of Saturday Night, echoing the Times' amazement at the development.


The first San Clemente Pier was built in 1928 (it was rebuilt in 1939 and 1983). When we visited there was a clam chowder contest (part of Seafest, I think) underway. Unfortunately for many, the urge to gratingly attempt to yell in the non-rhotic New English dialect proved impossible to resist. The lines were really long -- as is the 365 meterlong pier. At the shore end is Fisherman's Restaurant but it also had lines out the door so we returned to the land.

Looking back at San Clemente from the pier


San Clemente’s first fire house and city jail were built in 1928 in what's now called Old City Plaza. An iron works and warehouse were added shortly after. Most of the plaza's municipal facilities relocated in 1962 although the building was still used as a maintenance yard until 1974. 

Historic City Yard Restaurant -- obscured by a windowless vehicle demanding that you "get stung"

Now the Old City Plaza is a quaint shopping center although both times I visited the jail house I found a heinous yellow vehicle parked in front -- apparently a TARDIS that blew its chameleon circuit in the totally eXtreme 1990s.


Ole Hanson Beach House (built in 1928)

The second story of the Ole Hanson Beach House

The San Clemente Inn (1928)

The Goldschmidt House (1928) designed by architect Paul R. Williams for Adlai Goldschmidt

Historic City Hall (aka the Easley Building), built in 1929 for Oscar Easley and never actually used as the City Hall

 the Easley Building/City Hall (1929)...

The Moulton House (1929), designed by Virgil Westbrook  for H.G. Moulton

The Swigart House, designed by Virgil Westbrook in 1929 for electrician Ralph Swigart

The Warner House, built in 1929 for Judge Warner -- founder of the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce

St. Clement's By the Sea (1929)


The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression changed San Clemente’s course for ever. After 1931, the further development of subdivisions ceased. From 1930 to 1940 the population of San Clemente plummeted from 1,200 to just 479 people. Hanson himself lost his home in 1932 and moved to Los Angeles where he died of a heart attack in 1940. In 1937, in order to encourage new development, Bank of America successfully lobbied city officials to loosen its Spanish Colonial Revival restrictions to encourage growth.


Some of the first new buildings constructed in the late 1930s incorporated a mix of architectural styles. Architects like Aubrey St. Clair, E.A. Myhre, Fay R. Spangler, Herman Light, and William Ayer mixed Spanish Revival with Modernist elements as well as others to create a interesting hybrids. Still extant examples from this era include the Casino San Clemente (1937), the San Clemente Theatre (1937)...

The L.S. Frasier House, built in 1938 for Thomas Loncono

...and the Hollywood Regency-style Campbell House (1941) which proved too difficult to do justice to with my camera.


Construction of Casino San Clemente began in 1936 and was completed in 1937. Like Catalina Casino, it’s not a casino in the common gambling sense but rather in the antiquated sense of a sort of social gathering place.

Inside the Casino San Clemente

Early on, casino entertainment was provided by orchestras including Bert Smith and the NBC Orchestra, Dean Holt and his Trocadero Orchestra , and Sterling Young’s Columbia Network Orchestra.

The casino was a popular hangout for Hollywood stars such as Dorothy Lamour, Mickey Rooney, Pat O’Brien, Vivien Leigh, and others. One frequent guest, Judy Garland, took to the small stage and treated guests to a rendition of “I Cried for You” from Babes in Arms in 1939 (the event is one of many documented on wall displays in the venue). During World War II the casino was commandeered by the military who used it was a lookout station. In 1961 it became a Moose Lodge. From 1973 until 1980 it was home to Sebastian’s West Dinner Playhouse. In 1980, Southhampton Dinner Theatre took over. for a spell. In 1991 it became something called Cabos ‘n’ Wabos Caberet Cantina which sounds atrocious but still preferable to it being shuttered, which it was in 2004. Thankfully, in 2009 it was acquired by new owners who renovated it and re-opened it as an event space -- and one devoid of any suggestions of Sammy Hagar.


The 650-seat San Clemente Theatre was constructed next to the casino in 1937 and opened in 1938. It was designed by celebrated Clifford A. Balch, and also included a bowling alley and used to host live music performances. At some point it was renamed The Miramar Theatre. It was restored in 1986, closed in 1995, and placed on a list of the nation’s most endangered historic theatres in 2001. It currently it remains boarded up.


As mentioned previously, Casino San Clemente was occupied by the military when the US entered World War II in 1941. Not in San Clemente, but no doubt far more impactful on the community, was the establishment of a marine base just on the other side of the county line to the south. Camp Pendleton was established by president Franklin Roosevelt in 1942. Economically, it helped revive San Clemente, providing a large customer base who spread word of the quaint Spanish hamlet. The war ended in 1945 and many military families stayed in the area. In 1946, the base was declared a permanent installation and suburban development in San Clemente resumed for the first time since its cessation fifteen years earlier at the dawn of the Depression. 

The Beachcomber Hotel, established in 1947, and the city's longest continually-running business


By 1950 the population of San Clemente had once again climbed, reaching 2,000. That year and for the next three, the US fought in the Korean War and more military personnel were drawn to the nearby base and in many cases settled after war in San Clemente with their families. At the same time the Downtown business district experienced a new wave of commercial development along its core around Avenida Del Mar and El Camino Real.

San Clemente Chamber of Commerce

Freed of the Spanish Colonial Revival restrictions, architects turned to other styles and like Googie and Tiki. Two of the finest examples – both still existent – are Pedro’s Tacos and the Chamber of Commerce building. I’m not sure what occupied Pedro’s Tacos before they moved in and introduced Orange County to fish tacos in 1986 but my guess is that it was formerly a burger stand.


San Clemente’s population reached 8,500 in 1960 – the same year that the 5 Freeway reached town. The freeway’s construction came at a cost – the destruction of many of San Clemente’s older buildings. In that era of destruction and construction, the huge Shorecliffs development was San Clemente’s first big, modern housing tract, begun in 1963.


The SONGS, a cute acronmyn for San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, was the world’s largest nuclear plant and was constructed just south of San Clemente. The first reactor began operation in 1968, four years after construction began. The second and third reactors followed in the 1980s. If you’ve driven this section of the five you probably know them as the “Giant Boobs" that serve as a gateway to San Diego County. In 2012, radioactive mist leaked from reactor three and nearby residents were issued iodine tablets. The rising water temperature and increased cloudiness around the reactor devastated the local marine ecosystem and a 150-acre kelp forest/artificial reef known as Wheeler North Reef was planted in 2008 to help mitigate the damage. The plant was shuttered in 2012 and the kelp on the artificial reef seems to be thriving although the population of marine fauna hasn't yet rebounded.


Before the 1960s, gangs seem to have been unknown in San Clemente. Back then San Clemente’s Varrio Chico (SCVC) gang and San Juan Capistrano’s Varrio Viejo were car clubs rather than gangs in the way that we think about them now. In the decades since they've evolved into street gangs and there are still unfortunate incidents of gang violence but the idea of anyone being afraid to visit San Clemente is ludicrous. 


Until 1972 the stunning Bartow Mansion stood as a symbol of San Clemente. Unfortunately, it was reduced to rubble by its final owners and replaced by an exceptionally hideous condominium. By then, roughly 500 of the old Spanish Colonial structures in the small city had been razed. The silver lining of the destruction was that it served as a catalyst for the organization of the San Clemente Historical Society in 1973. In 1999 the society received a grant to establish the San Clemente Historical Museum (although right now it's closed).


In 1974, Jay “Sparky” Longley founded Rainbow Sandals, which, in researching this piece I learned are "world famous." I'd never heard of them but then again, the only sandal brand that I'm familiar with is Germany's Birkenstock. I asked Una if she'd heard of them and she said that she hadn't. Then, after paying attention to the footware of people at her work, she told me that a patient had been wearing them. As we walked around San Clemente, she pointed out a group of people wearing them on the pier. 


 n 1975, a sex motel called Riviera Adult Motel opened in San Clemente. According to the OC Weekly it boasted theme rooms with large bathtubs and offered guests toys, complimentary adult movies and more. It seems as though it was demolished a few years ago. I doubt the Historical Society made saving it one of their causes. 


As with World War II and the Korean War, nearby Camp Pendleton trained thousands of marines that were sent off to fight in Vietnam. 50,418 refugees from Vietnam entered the US through the camp. 165 children were born there. Although presumably a significant number of Vietnam War veterans settled in San Clemente after the war, most of the Vietnamese settled further away in North Orange County (where they established Little Saigon) and the San Gabriel Valley's Far East Side.


By 1980, the population of San Clemente passed 27,000, 8% of whom were Latino. By 1990 that percentage had increased by 4% as the Anglo population decreased by the same. Some tensions arose, particularly between young men from both communities. High school Greaser vs Surfer rows go back at least to the 1950s. The most famous violent incident between young Latinos and Anglos occurred at Calafia Beach County Park in 1993, which ended in the death of 17-year-old Steven Woods. Like the Sleepy Lagoon Murder of 1942, it serves as a lightning rod for ethnic hostility, especially after the victim’s mother (a legal immigrant from the UK) blamed the violence on illegal immigrants. After throwing her weight behind Prop 187 -- which aimed to deny education, healthcare and social services to the undocumented -- it picked up considerable steam. Meanwhile anti-gang organizations formed, high school students staged a walkout, and a banner stating “Take Back our City” was hung from the 5 Freeway. Prop 187 passed with a large margin.




There are several train options to San Clemente: Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink’s Orange County and IE/OC Lines. Metrolink began service in 1992 and yet I've still yet to ride one of their trains. Until the morning that we headed to San Clemente I had planned on us grabbing $10 weekend passes and taking the train to the pier station but it turned out that service was temporarily halted while crossing improvements were made and the closest that we could get via Metrolink was to Laguna Niguel.

Unable to get a picture of an OCTA bus, here's a green Studebaker that I liked 

From Laguna Niguel we could've taken advantage of Orange County's other great public transit service, OCTA, but that would've added another 80 minutes to the already long commute so we decided to drive this time. Orange County Transit Authority was formed the year before Metrolink when seven separated transit agencies combined forces. In 2005, OCTA was proclaimed "America's Best Public Transportation System" by the American Public Transportation Association. The organization serves Orange County with 77 bus lines, four of which (1, 91, 191, and 193) serve San Clemente. Not long ago, in 2011, San Clemente and OCTA made headlines when someone briefly stole one of their buses and abandoned it after an apparent joyride.

I mostly got around San Clemente on foot and found that it's not the most walkable city. Although most of the sites of interest to visitors are located within a small area that is fairly flat, it's iverall much hillier than I expected. Furthermore, sidewalks are quite rare and usually only exist in small, disconnected sections. Therefore, I did most of my walking in the street, something which local drivers seemed tolerant and respectful of -- probably because so many people do so. For the record, Walk Score gives the city a ranking of 47, on par with notoriously sprawling places like Phoenix and Dallas


Of course no visit to any destination is complete without sampling the local cuisine. San Clemente's main claim to culinary fame might be that it's home to a chain called Pick Up Stix Fresh Asian Flavors. In November is the Taste of San Clemente and many other events throughout the year involve food. The food scene of San Clemente, it has to be noted, isn’t the most diverse. The most numerous type of restaurants are American followed by Mexican, pizzerias, Italian, and burger joints.

We first ate, on recommendation, at one of the burger joints -- The Riders Club Café. There we enjoyed some rather messy (silverware recommended) sandwiches and beer. A lot of the dining options were too upscale for my taste and my favorite meal was a good, filling and very cheap dinner at La Tiendita, a Mexican restaurant and mini-market. Out of sheer desperation we ate at a noisy sports bar, Sunsets at the Pier, which was fine and afforded a lovely view of the ocean if also -- and expectedly -- sports blaring in every direction and boozy jocks grunting with excitement. Afterward I took off to explore more and Una went to the pier to eat a lobster at 26th Annual Seafest and reported that it was very good.

Other local food options include: Adele’s Café, Antoine’s Café, Avila’s El Ranchito, The Bagel Shack, Bamboo Bamboo’s Chinese Cuisine, Beach Garden Café, BeachFire, Biggie’s Burgers, Billys Meats Seafood and Deli, Board & Brew, Bread Gallery, Brick Pizzeria, Bud’s Famous Hot Dogs, Bull Taco, Buonos Pizza and Pasta, Burger Junkies, Burger Stop, Butterfly Orchid, Café 207, Café Calypso, Café del Sol, Café Mimosa, Café Rae, Calafia Beach Café, Captain Mauri’s Counterculture,

Carbonara Trattoria Italiana, China Well Restaurant, Chronic Tacos, Cinnamon Productions, Corky’s Family Restaurant, CourtsideDaphne’s California Greek, El Jefe Café, El Mariachi Restaurant, Fratello’s, Golden Chicken, The Grill at Surfin Donuts, Guicho’s Eatery, Hapa J’s, Hot Dog Heaven, Ichibiri Restaurant
, Inka Mama’s, Italian Cravings, Iva Lee’s, Izza Pizzeria, Kahuna’s Grill at North Beach, Kelly’s Donuts, The Kultured Kitchen, La Cocina de Ricardo, La Galette Creperie,

La Rocco’s Pizzeria, La Siesta Restaurant, Las Golodrinas Mexican Food, Little Thai Hut, Los Patios, Maxim Restaurant, Miyako, Mongkut Thai Restaurant, Mr. Pete’s Burgers, New Mandarin Garden, Nick’s San Clemente, 9 Style Sushi, Nobu Sushi
, Nomad’s Canteen, Olamendi’s Restaurant, Pacific Taste Restaurant, Pada Sushi at Albertson’s, Papa Murphy’s Take N Bake Pizza, Peppino’s Italian Family Restaurant, Pho Thanh Binh, Pier Shack & Grill, Pipes Café,  Pizza Port,  Poke + Roll 808,

Rice Temptation, Rocco’s Restaurant, Romano’s, Rose’s Sugar Shack Café, SC Café, Selma’s Chicago PizzeriaThe Shore, Signature Grille, Sonny’s Pizza and Pasta, South of Nick’s, Stillwater Café, Stuft Pizza & Brewing, Sundried Tomato Café, Sunrise Café, Super Bowl Express,
Super Suppers, The Surferosa Café, Surfin’ Chicken, Surfside Pizza, Sushi Sono, 

Taka-O Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, Taste of China, Tequila’s Chophouse, Thai Palace SC, Thai Paradise Restaurant, Tina and Vince Italian Deli, Tommy’s Family Restaurant & Coffee Shop, 2 For 1 Pizza Company, Two Guy’s Pizza, Village Mediterranean Rim
, and  Waba Grill Teriyaki House


Inside the Red Fox Lounge

Although the dining scene overall seems kind of fancy (a place with $35 entrees is listed as “$$” out of “$$$$” on Yelp), the drinking scene occupies a similar range. Bars include Big Helyn’s Saloon, Board & Brew, The Cellar, Chill Lounge Via Fontibre, Duke’s, Goodys Tavern, Molly Bloom’s Irish Bar and RestaurantMulligan’s Sports Bar, OC Tavern Grill & Sports Bar, Ole’s Tavern, Outrigger, Pride of the Pacific Bar & Grille, San Clemente Wine Company, St. Roy Chef’s Pub at Vine. If you prefer coffee, there's Zebra House Coffee. We checked out the Red Fox Lounge, one of the older bars in the city, having been established in 1955.


Walking around San Clemente I couldn’t find any dedicated music venues. Back in the day, in addition to the Casino, City Hall was home to the House of Music. On Yelp, places like Adele’s Café, Knuckleheads Sports Bar, OC Tavern Grill & Sports Bar are all listed as music venues although I’m not sure how accurate that is. The sign on Goody’s Tavern, established in 1929, promised live music, dancing, pool and other sinful activities but we didn’t venture inside to confirm. From May to August, since 1999, San Clemente has hosted the annual Summer Beach Concert Series

There was music everywhere, however and in the course of my walks I also heard music bouncing around the hills and canyons. There was pop-punk coming from somewhere near the pier at one point. A day earlier I could hear a band run through a medley of Bee Gees, Wild Cherry and other ‘70s tunes. As I walked down Avenida Del Mar, a man on the sidewalk plucked at his banjo. Floating from store, car and home windows (and jukeboxes) I heard Snoop Dogg, C.W. Mccall, death metal, Michael Jackson, Metallica (which Una asked me to stop singing along to), Willie Nelson, and more. I saw a Rasta hawking CDs of his reggae to a tie-dyed family whose patriarch gushed “I love Bob Marley” but passed on buying the disc. 

Probably the best known musician from San Clemente is Annie Hardy of Giant Drag, who if I'm not mistaken, was at one point something of a regular on Amoeba's mezzanine. Other local performers include Absynth & Orange, American Restless, Buddhafinger, Brewcifer, Clam, Collective (And the Influence of the Individual), CursorDavid Greenwood, Dr. Bob's Nightmare, Dubluva, Dustin Franks, Garrett Grimm, Grady Penna, Half Blonde, Maddie Miller, Man Flesh, Mario Di Sandro, Methadone Kitty and the Daily Dose, No More Saints, Phigure, Red Asphalt, The Red Kapps, The Resurrectionists, Rock Bottom, Scarletfields, Shit Wizard, Shtar, Skunkemusic, Sunday Night Drive, and Tony Milosevic.


Probably the best-known film that really made use of its San Clemente setting was Rian Johnson’s neo-noir film Brick (2005). Ron Howard’s Frost Nixon (2008) included some shots of San Clemente -- possibly of the Western White House (I didn't see it). Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge (1986) featured a scene filmed in San Clemente’s storied Wagon Wheel bar (now Mulligan’s). At least some scenes of Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and The Naked Gun (1988) were also filmed in San Clemente. On television San Clemente was featured in at least some episodes of Dynasty, Sports Talk, and Not Now John. San Clemente is the setting for an MTV show called Life of Ryan, although I don't believe that it's filmed there. San Clemente is also the birthplace of actress Cara Fawn (aka Cheyenne Silver).

After the old San Clemente Theatre was permanently shuttered in 1995, Krikorian San Clemente Cinema 6 opened in 1997 and is currently the only movie theater in town. San Clemente is also home to Inspirational Films, a production company that produces Christian-themed films. Their biggest hit to date was Jesus (1979), the three (!) directors of which were John HeymanJohn Krisch, and Peter Sykes (To the Devil... A Daughter, The House in Nightmare Park, Demons of the Mind).


Though not quite a South County art mecca on the same level as Laguna Beach, San Clemente is home to a vibrant and well-established art scene based around galleries, street art, surf boards, public art, tattoo parlors, &c.

Mint Fine Art Gallery 

The San Clemente Art Association first organized back in 1953 with seven members. They had their first show in 1954 and opened an art gallery in 1972. Nowadays they host eight art shows a year, including the August Art-Craft Fair in the third week of each August which has taken place since 1960. The city and the Art Association have paired together to turn traffic control boxes into art canvasses. The Village Art Faire takes place on the first Sunday of every month and Una and I checked it out as we made our way toward the sea. San Clemente is also home to a street artist who goes by Bandit. Bandit organized the first Public Art of San Clemente Art Show in 2012.

Art supply stores and galleries including Bamboo and Beyond, Gallery 104, GRC Ceramic Design, Ink Gallery, Jennifer Joyce Ceramic Arts, Kona Gallery and Photojournalism Center, Liquid Art Studio, Solitary Exposure Ocean Fine Art Gallery, and Studio Artique. We stayed near San Clemente Art Supply which offers classes. I’m not sure if it’s connected to the store, but in an alley nearby a garage has a mural celebrating the first half century of The Rolling Stones. A bit further up the road I snapped a picture of the Mint Fine Art Gallery and met the owner as he was leaving.


Surfing has been popular in San Clemente at least since the 1930s and really took off in the 1950s. Popular surfing areas include the Trestles (mentioned by the Beach Boys in “Surfin’ USA”), the Lowers, the Middles, the Uppers, the Riviera, Lost Winds, the Hole, T-Street, the Pier, Linda Lane, 204, North Beach, Calafia, and Poche Beach.

There are several surf-centric shops and manufactures like Cole Surfboards, Dewey Weber Surfboards, Lost Surfboards, San Clemente Surf Company, Son of the Sea, Stewart Surfboards, Terry Senate Surfboards, and Timmy Patterson Surfboards. There’s also an annual San Clemente Celebration of Surf Music and Art Festival. For more than 20 years, San Clemente has also annually hosted the largest Woody exhibition in California.

They used to show surf films at the Miramar and surf films and series like Innovators (2005), School of Surf (2009), Farmer’s Tan (2010), and BoardRoom (2012) were filmed in San Clemente. San Clemente is also home to the Surfing Heritage Foundation and the Surfrider Foundation. The publications Longboard Magazine, Surfer’s Journal, and Surfing Magazine are (or were) all based in San Clemente.


Max Berg Plaza Park

San Clemente is home to a number of beaches, parks and hiking trails. The oldest beach is San Clemente State Beach, established in 1937 and home to the Historic San Clemente Cottage.

San Clemente Historic Cottage 

Inside the historic cottage

Other parks include Bonita Canyon Park, Calafia Park, Forster Ranch Community Park, La Pata Vista Hermosa Sports Park, Leslie Park, Liberty Park, Linda Lane Park, Marblehead Park, Max Berg Plaza Park, Parque del Mar, Rancho San Clemente Park, San Clemente Dog Park, San Gorgonio Park, San Luis Rey Park, Sunset Park, Verde Park, and part of Rancho Mission Viejo Ecologia (part is within San Diego County).

Most of the hiking trails are in the semi-arid, rather forebodingly tree-less (and therefore shade-less) foothills. They include the the 8km Prima Derecha Trail, 6.75 km Forster Ridgeline Trail, 5.5 km Cristianitos Trial, the 5.5 km Rancho San Clemente Trail, and the 4.5 kilometer Talega Trail. Nearer the coast there’s the 5km San Clemente Pedestrian Trail.


There are, of course, other things to do when in San Clemente.

Cabrillo Playhouse (1953)

As a fan of live theater, I was pleased to stumble upon the Cabrillo Playhouse, established in 1953 and home to the San Clemente Community Theatre. Every August for the last 60 years the Annual San Clemente Fiesta Street Festival has taken place and offers attendees bands, beer, games, arts and crafts, car and motorcycle shows, and a salsa challenge. There’s also the Rancho San Clemente Tennis & Fitness Club. The family-oriented Ocean Festival has taken place annually since 1977. On the 13th of October is the Carnival Colossal & Expo

More entertainment options: parking lot grill-outs and laundromat arcade games

For golfers, there are a few options. In addition to the Bella Collina Towne & Golf Club and Shorecliffs Golf Club, there’s the San Clemente Golf Club. The San Clemente Municipal Golf Course was designed in 1928 by the renowned golf course architect William P. Bell, initially as a nine hole course. It was touted as the only all-grass course between Long Beach and La Jolla. Nine more holes were added in 1956. Sadly, the elegant clubhouse was destroyed to make way for an apartment complex.


In addition to the aforementioned San Clemente Historical Society, San Clemente is home to the San Clemente Junior Women's Club and San Clemente Women’s Club (established in 1948), Kiwanis Club of San Clemente, San Clemente Rotary Club, San Clemente - Capistrano Bay Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the San Clemente Friends of the Library, among other organizations.


There are several bookstores in San Clemente including Joy’s Christian Bookstore, Mathom House Books, and Village Book Exchange. Additionally, there's the San Clemente Library

If you’d like to read more about San Clemente there have been several newspapers including the first, El Heraldo de San Clemente and currently the San Clemente Times, the Orange County Register's Sun Post News, and the online San Clemente Patch.

There are also books worth checking out such as Homer Banks’s The Story of San Clemente: The Spanish Village (1930), Lloyd Hanson’s Inside the Casa, Elizabeth Mcmillian and Melba Levick’s Casa California: Spanish-Style Houses from Santa Barbara to San Clemente (1996), Doris Walker’s The Heritage of San Clemente (2000), Mike Newel’s San Clemente California Spanish Village by the Sea (2009), and Jennifer A. Garey and The San Clemente Historical Society’s San Clemente (2010). There’s also a children’s book from 1973, Blythe Welton and Mary Lou Nicolai’s From Fishcarts to Fiestas.

And if you want, check out Lucas “Toddler Boy” of “Look Who’s Traveling” (who beat me to San Clemente by a week or so!) by watching the clip below:


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Santa Catalina Island and Avalon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 26, 2013 07:38pm | Post a Comment

Two weeks ago I made my first visit to one of California’s Channel Islands, Santa Catalina Island. For those that don’t know, Southern California is home to an archipelago of small, rugged islands off its coast. My 2012 New Year’s resolution was to visit one or more of the Channel Islands. Having failed to realize this wish by December of that year, I instead resolved to learn to tie a bow tie after being berated (jokingly, I think) for not knowing how do so despite operating a gentlemen’s shop. For the record, I accomplished this last minute resolution and wore a bow tie a few nights later New Year’s Eve that I tied all by myself. Any, since transportation via Catalina Express is free on one’s birthday, I decided to have another go at island life.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Santa Catalina Island 

Accompanying me in her debut appearance was Una. In order to get as much out of our adventure as possible, we departed at some pre-dawn hour. After a hastily-devoured meal from McDonald's (which, though simple and clarified three times, managed nonetheless to be both screwed up and roof-of-the-mouth blisteringly hot) we raced down the docks and leapt aboard the boat with about two minutes to spare.

 Catalina Landing and another Catalina Express boat in Long Beach

Despite the relatively early hour, I could scarcely contain my excitement at once again being back on the sea after so long on land. As we passed freighters in the Harbor from the other side of the ocean, I thought what an adventure it must be to journey, even as a mere cabin boy, between San Pedro Bay and Japan or China by sea -- singing sea shanties for the enjoyment of my fellow seamen. As the biting wind struck my face I reminisced about hitting the seas to go scuba diving and remembered that one of the main draws of California upon me was its maritime nature. Before long the site of Catalina (almost always visible from the mainland as a dark silhouette) came into focus like something out of a dream.

Avalon emerging on the horizon


Santa Catalina Island, often referred to as either Catalina Island or just Catalina, is about 35 km long and 13 km wide at its greatest width. It’s located 35 km from the coast. The highest point is the 639 meter tall Mount Orizaba. The Channel Islands, in descending order of size, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Santa Catalina, San Clemente, San Nicolas, San Miguel, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. Like San Clemente Island, Santa Catalina Island is just as much a part of Los Angeles County as the communities of the mainland (even though the two islands are often given the Alaska and Hawaii treatment on maps). 

Pendersleigh & Sons' Cartography's map of Los Angeles County regions and detail of Channel Islands

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Several of California’s Channel Islands – Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel – were historically home to the Chumash, who may’ve settled them some 10,000 years ago. It’s possible that San Clemente, San Nicolas and Santa Catalina were as well also home to bands of Chumash. Evidence on San Nicolas and San Clemente suggest that at least they were the sites of major battles. What is known with more certainty is that around 7,000 BCE bands of Tongva were living on all three of these southern Channel Islands.

Santa Catalina appears to have been first settled a group calling themselves Pimugnans or Pimuvit. The Tongva band called the island Pimu'gna (“Place of the Pimu”) and archaeological evidence suggest that they first settled the islands after their ancestors emigrated from distant the Sonoran Desert. Their largest settlements were near the present day settlements at Avalon, Shark Harbor, and Emerald Bay. They traded soapstone from the island with other nations along the California coast and possibly with Polynesians. Evidence from the thousands of ancient middens on the island suggests that around 2,000 BCE the island was home to around 2,500 Pimuvit.


The first European explorer, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, arrived on 7 October, 1542 and, naming it San Salvador, claimed it for Spain. In 1602 another Spanish explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, again “discovered” the island, this time naming it Santa Catalina in recognition of the Eve of Saint Catherine’s Day (24 November), on which he arrived. The Spanish lacked the ability to prevent other nations from using the island and for centuries Aleut, American and Russian otter hunters, luckless gold prospectors, and smugglers used the islands for their own purposes, decimating the Pimugnans with disease and deliberate killings.


Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 and the islands changed hands once again. The last of the Pimugnans were gone by the 1830s – mostly victims of disease and migration to the mainland in search of work. Governor Pío Pico granted the island to Thomas M. Robbins in 1846 as Rancho Santa Catalina.


Miners on Catalina - Image source: The Catalina Islander

In 1850 Robbins sold the island to José María Covarrubias who sold it to Albert Packard in 1853 who in turn sold it to James Lick. Despite the fact that no gold was ever found on the island, otter hunters began telling tales of gold mines and buried treasure. Boom towns sprang up and in 1863 and 70 miners were then mining various claims. One character, Stephen Bouchette, claimed to have struck a rich vein and after securing a backing to mine for gold, set sail with his wife and all of their belongings and was never heard from again. In 1864, the US ordered everyone off the island and a small garrison of troops was stationed on the isthmus’s west end. The barracks, still there, are currently home to the Isthmus Yacht Club and are the oldest structure on the island.


Civil War barracks at Two Harbors - Image source: Visit Catalina Island

After the end of the Civil War, a few ranchers began to move to the island. Real estate developer George Shatto was the first to capitalize on the island’s potential as a tourist destination. After buying the island from the Lick estate, Shatto built the island’s first hotel, Hotel Metropole, and a pier. His sister-in-law, Etta Whitney, came up with the name Avalon, taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem “Idylls of the King.” Shatto soon defaulted on his loan and ownership returned to the Lick estate.

Postcard depicting Avalon Bay in 1900


The Santa Catalina Island Company was established by the sons of Phineas Banning in 1891 with the intention of developing the island as a resort. In addition to promoting Avalon, the Banning brothers developed inland roads for stagecoach tours and to access hunting lodges. They also built homes for themselves at Descanso Canyon and in what’s now Two Harbors. Their efforts were majorly set back when a fire destroyed most of Avalon on 29 November, 1915. In 1919 the brothers were forced to sell shares of their company.


The Tuna Club of Avalon

After visiting the island with his family, William Wrigley, Jr. purchased most of the island’s shares and thus gained controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company. The Tuna Club of Avalon was built in 1916. To drum up publicity, Wrigley’s Chicago Cubs began using the island for spring training in 1921 and stayed at the Hotel St. Catherine in Descanso Bay. The Catalina Island Yacht Club, established in 1893, built a new Yacht Club in 1924 (the former was destroyed in the fire). Wrigley established the Wrigley Ocean Marathon in 1927. He built the Catalina Casino in 1929. He died in 1932 and control of the company passed to his son, Philip, who continued his father’s work.

Left Catalina Island Yacht Club (built 1924). Right Catalina Casino (1929)

The 1920s and ‘30s are widely considered to have been the island’s heyday with movie stars like Clark Gable frequently making high profile visits and famous western author Zane Grey making his home there (which is now the phone-and-TV-less Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel).

During World War II the island was used by the military and closed to tourists. San Clemente Island, to the south, is still owned by the military and off-limits to visitors. The US Maritime Service, Coast Guard, Office of Strategic Services, Army Signal Corp and Navy all established a presence at various locations throughout the island.

In 1972, 26 Brown Berets planted a Mexican flag in Catalina, claiming that the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty between Mexico and the US didn’t cover the Channel Islands. Following 24 days of camping near Chimes Tower the activists returned to the mainland. In 1975, 42,135 acres of the island were deeded not to Mexico but to the Catalina Island Conservancy, established the same year as the Brown Berets’ action.



Avalon, as seen from the mountains

As of 2010, Catalina was home to 4,096 people – with 90% living in the only incorporated community, Avalon. Unincorporated Two Harbors is the next largest settlement and was then home to only about 298 people. The population of the island is about 56% Latino, 41% white Anglo, and about 2% Asian/Pacific Islander.


About 400 species of native plants grow on the island. Six varieties are endemic. There are five native land mammals: a subspecies of California Ground Squirrel, the Santa Catalina Island Harvest Mouse, the Santa Catalina Island Deer Mouse, the Ornate Shrew, and the aforementioned Island Fox.

Critically endangered Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis)

The endangered Island Fox was almost wiped out. In 1999, there remained only about 100. A recovery program increased their numbers and I saw and snapped a picture of one of the new roughly 400.

Bison grazing in the hills

In addition to the fox, the most recognizable fauna icon of the island is the American Bison. Fourteen bison were brought to the island in 1924 for the film, The Vanishing American. Rather than euthanize or return the bison, the filmmakers simply left them be and today there are about 150 which have -- along with other non-natives including Blackbuck, Bullfrogs, feral cats, Mule Deer, rats, and Starlings -- wrought taxed the ecosystem. The non-native cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep were also destructive but are no longer present on the island. The waters around the island is home to California SheepheadGaribaldiGreat White sharks, Leopard sharks, White Seabass, Yellowtail, Bat Rays, Giant Sea Bass, California Sea lions, and Harbor Seals


Catalina is regularly serviced by public transportation. Passenger ferries depart from Dana Point, Long Beach, Marina del Rey, Newport Beach, and San Pedro. Helicopters also connect Long Beach and San Pedro to the island. On the day of our visit, there was a Carnival Cruise ship broken down (I kid) off the coast.

Catalina Airport (CIB)

For those with access to a private plane, the island is also home to the Catalina Airport aka Airport-in-the-Sky, built in 1946 on top of a mountain 488 meters above sea level.


Claressa Avenue in Avalon, CA

Most residents of Catalina own gas-powered golf carts and many tourists rent them as well. When we explored Avalon in the morning, it took me a bit to get used to what sounded and smelled like 2,000 lawn mowers and leaf blowers being operated at once. There are also bike riders and rentals as well as tour busses and a trolley. There are, contrary to what I’d heard, some proper cars and trucks. Most of the ones that I were Minis (originals, not BMW’s) and Japanese mini trucks.

Metropola Avenue in Avalon, CA


With almost one million annual visitors annually dwarfing the local population by hundreds of times, it should come as no surprise that tourism is central to the island’s economy. There are all sorts of appropriately touristy activities available including glass bottom boats, scuba diving, snorkeling, para-sailing, and tours seem to be especially popular. Despite Avalon’s most iconic architecture being Catalina Casino, legal gambling is not. To quote Pee-Wee Herman, “Some things they don't teach you in school; some things you just have to learn for yourself.” We opted for an inland bus tour, the tickets for which were sold to us by a seemingly authentic Sea Hag straight out of Popeye. We also, not very tourist-like, visited the local library.

The Sea Hag and Alice the Goon

Swimming in the ocean near Avalon’s beaches is also popular although the fact that the Natural Resources Defense Council lists Avalon as one of the ten most chronically polluted beaches in the nation due to mainly to its antiquated sewer system convinced me to pursue liquid refreshment elsewhere – namely, in a bar.


Nearly all of the restaurants on Catalina Island are in Avalon. Refreshingly, none are part of an international chain. We ate a hearty elevenses at Pancake Cottage, a light lunch Avalon Seafood (aka Fish and Chips), and dinner at Lobster Trap. In between he enjoyed ice cream from Big Olaf's Ice Cream, and beer at one of the island's only proper bars, the Marlin Club.

Restaurants we didn't manage to check out include Antonio's Pizzeria & The Catalina Cabaret, Avalon Grille, Avalon's Plaza Cafe, Barbecue House, Bluewater Grill, Buffalo Nickel Restuarant, Cafe Metropole, Casino Dock Cafe, Catalina Cantina, CC Beau Deli, CC Gallagher, Channel House Restaurant, Chef D'Arcy's Soul Food, Coney Island West, Coyote Joe's Bar & Restaurant, Debbie's Island Deli, Descanso Beach Club, Dessert Island, Dockside Deli, Eli's Island Deli, El Galleon, Eric's on the Pier, Island Sushi, Joe's Place, Katie's Kitchen, Landing Bar & Grill, Laua Larry's, Lori's Good Stuff, M Restaurant, Mi Casita Mexican Restaurant, Mr. Ning's Chinese Garden, Original Anotio's Deli, Original Jack's Country Kitchen, Pete's Plaza Cafe, Pic Nic Fry, Ristorante Villa Portofino, Sally's Waffle Shop, Sandtrap Restaurant and Bar, Steve's Steakhouse, Three Palms Avalon Arcade, and Topless Tacos.

Outside of Avalon there are few options. We squeezed in more beer at DC-3 Gifts and Grill (aka Runway Cafe) which is located at the airport. In Two Harbors there's Doug's Harbor Reef Restaurant. Presumably guests can get breakfast at least at the island's bed and breakfasts.


Catalina has long been the subject of documentaries. A sampling of the earliest includes Santa Catalina, Magic Isle of the Pacific (1911), Santa Catalina Islands, and The Capture of a Sea Elephant and Hunting Wild Game in the South Pacific Islands (both 1914).

The island has also been a filming location for episodes of several TV series including Airwolf, The Aquanauts, The Bachelor, Bahcelor Pad, The Bold and the Beautiful, Den store fisketuren, Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door, The Girls Next Door, Hell's Kitchen, Home from Home, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, Mannix, Route 66, Sea Hunt, Twentysixmiles, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Its list of features and short films set and/or filmed there includes but is not limited to Biblical stories, prehistoric fantasies, pirate movies, swashbucklers, and Naval epics. Many films shot in Catalina were done so in the silent era, including Action (1921), American Pluck (1925), The Beach Combers (1912), Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), The Black Pirate (1926), Conquering the Woman (1922), Ebb Tide (1922), Feet of Clay (1924), Half a Man (1925), His Jonah Day (1920), The Isle of Lost Ships (1923), The Kid Brother (1927), The King of Kings (1927), Loot (1919), Male and Female (1919), Man's Genesis (1912), Miss Adventure (1919), No Man's Land (1918), Old Ironsides (1926), Peter Pan (1924), A Prizma Color Visit to Catalina (1919), The Professor's Wooing (1912), Rivals (1912), A Romance at Catalina (1912), Roughest Africa (1923), The Sea Beast (1926), The Sea Hawk (1924), The Sea Maiden (1913), The Sea Nymphs (1914), The Shepherd of the Hills (1919), Sirens of the Sea (1917), Terror Island (1920), The Treasure of the Sea (1918), the aforementioned The Vanishing American (1925), The Woman (1915), The Valley of the Moon (1914), and The Yankee Girl (1915).

Catalina's also been a filming location and/or setting for many talkies. Consider the following:

Affairs in Order (2008), All Ashore (1953), All is Lost (2013), Apollo 13 (1995), Aquanoids (2003), Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Battle at Bloody Beach (1961), Beachcomber (2009), Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998), Bird of Paradise (1932), Blockade (1938), The Blue Men (1990), Born to Dance (1936), The Buccaneer (1938), Captain Calamity (1936), Catalina Caper (1967), Chinatown (1974),

The Circuit III: Final Flight
(2006), Cruise into Terror (1978), The Cruise of the Jasper B (1926), Dancing Dynamite (1931), Dangerous Character (1962), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Dead in the Head (2010), The Divine Lady (1929), The Divorcee (1930),  El capitan Tormenta (1936), Elmer, the Great (1933), Fast Life (1932), The First to Go (1997), The Flaming Signal (1933), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), 
Guadalcanal Diary (1943), Harpoon (1948), Hero's Island (1962),

Hong Kong Nights
(1935), The Hurricane (1937), I Live My Life (1935), The In-Laws (1979), The Incredible Petrified World (1957), Into the Wild (2007), Island of Lost Souls (1932), Island Prey (2005), Jack the Giant Killer (1962), Jaws (1975), Journey of Echoes (2011), King of the Jungle (1933), Life as a House (2001), 
Lost Focus (2004), Love thy Neighbor (1940), The Man with Bogart's Face (1980), Men Without Women (1930), Mermaids of Tiburon (1962),

Monster from the Ocean Floor
(1954), The Monster That Challenged the World (1957), Murder on a Honeymoon (1935), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), New Moon (1940), Oh Kay! (1928), P.J. (1968), 
Pirate Party on Catalina Isle (1935), Pirates of the High Seas (1950), Platinum High School (1960), Port of Hate (1939), Rain (1932), Reap the Wild Wind (1942), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), Red Hair (1928), Ruthless (1948),

Sadie Thompson (1928), Sand Sharks (2011), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), The Sea God (1930), 
The Sea Hound (1947), Seas Beneath (1931), The Shepherd of the Hills (1928), Sherlock: Undercover Dog (1994), The Sin Ship (1931), Sixteen Fathoms Deep (1934), The Son of Kong (1933), Song of the Islands (1942), Strange Interlude (1932), Submarine D-1 (1937), Suicide Kings (1997), Summer Children (1965), The Tenderfoot (1965), Tormented (1960), two short films called Catalina (both 2007), Typhoon (1940), Wake of the Red Witch (1948), Waterworld (1995), We're Not Dressing (1934), When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950), and You Said a Mouthful (1932) 

In 1981, actress Natalie Wood drowned in the waters near Two Harbors under fishy circumstances, where she and her husband, actor Robert Wagner, were vacationing aboard their yacht with fellow actor Christopher Walken. In 2011 the case was reopened due to statements made by the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern. When we visited, there was some sort of related exhibit regarding the events at the small Catalina Island Museum.

Catalina is also the birthplace of actor/producer/director Gregory Harrison (he directed episodes of Trapper John, MD and Touched by an Angel), visual effects guy Jack Cosgrove (Gone with the Wind), and Ernie Reed (camera and electrical department on City Heat).


Not a lot of (or any that I’m aware of) widely-recognized music performers or bands have emerged from the island’s small population but it has hosted a couple of big names and events. Every year there’s the Catalina Island Jazztrax Festival. It was also the recording site of John Tesh: The Avalon Concert (1997).

Additionally, it’s been mentioned or referenced in a couple of songs including Harry Carroll and Harold Atteridge's "By the Beautiful Sea" (1914), Al Jolson and Vincent Rose's "Avalon" (1920), Nacio Herb Brown and Grant Clarke's "Avalon Town" (1928), Carrie Jacobs-Bond's "California" (1929), Cliff Friend and Con Conrad's "California" (1930), Harold Spina's "Santa Catalina" (1946), Gorden Vanderburg's "Catalina Honeymoon" (1953), The Four Preps’ “26 Miles” (1958), The Descendents’ “Catalina" (1982), and Modern Skirts’ “Pasadena” (2005).


We caught the last ferry home, along with many more people than were on board our boat on the way to Catalina. Whereas our morning journey had been amazingly quiet, the trip home was memorable for the shrill screams of energetic children. Outside the boat’s window, I was treated to a stunning sunset that I gave up on trying to capture with a camera and then the lovely site of downtown Long Beach. down, seven to go!